For many, there comes a time when the to-do list never shortens and when free time doesn't really feel free. This is where CH found Portland's Jordan Hufnagel and his longtime friend James Crowe just over a year ago. And this is what led the two—Hufnagel, a bicycle builder by trade; and Crowe, a custom motorcycle fabricator—to found West America, an outdoor lifestyle experiment centered on escaping the aforementioned life. After launching with a modest range of handmade camp supplies and soft goods to be used on their upcoming year-long motorcycle trip to Patagonia, the two found themselves in the sights of storied outdoor apparel brand Woolrich, who took a liking to the West America's honest aesthetic and genuine approach to adventure. Rather than take the easy route and accept some sort of sponsorship, Hufnagel and Crowe countered with a pitch to collaborate on a limited-edition capsule collection—one that would both be worn on their trip, and could be sold in select shops.
"We're not really interested in a sponsorship type of situation, because we funded this trip on our own; we're totally set to take it without any obligations to anybody else," said Hufnagel about his initial feelings toward allowing a secondary brand on the bandwagon. After all, one specific goal of the trip is to show that a journey of this caliber is possible for anyone. But given Woolrich's recently renewed dedication to domestic manufacturing (something Hufnagel and Crowe are deeply invested in) and their openness toward a true separate entity collaboration, West America excitedly sign on. Now, nine months later, the collection—which includes a jacket, vest, blanket poncho and cap—is finished and currently in production in New York. As a sign of Woolrich's new direction, and the collection's general level of quality, each piece is currently being produced in the same NYC Garment District factory that makes Engineered Garments.
In such a small collection, it's hard to value one piece over the other, but the poncho is really something else. Crowe's baby, the wearable camp blanket, is made of vintage wool in a rarely produced pattern and colorway and can be packed bedroll style—plus, the waxed cotton shoulders help disperse precipitation in inclement weather.
While visiting the Woolrich HQ in Pennsylvania, Hufnagel stumbled upon some long-forgotten, deadstock camo wool in a dark corner of the mills' fabric archive. The find turned out to be worth 18 yards of fabric, which has been made into 122 hats for the collection. While the rest of the collection is made in NYC, the hats are being produced in Texas.
With total creative freedom concerning what to include in the collection, Crowe claimed the poncho, while Hufnagel had the vest to call his own. "Those were our two things where we said, 'Alright, you get a vest and you get a poncho, and neither of us gets to say shit about it,'" says Hufnagel. "It's definitely my spin on like the Carhartt vest, with minor changes that would make it the perfect vest for me." Said tweaks include a slim wool body backed with waxed cotton canvas from New Jersey and Talon Zippers from Pennsylvania.
The backbone of the collection is the waxed canvas motorcycle jacket. With style elements borrowed from the classic American chore jacket and motorcycle-minded detailing—throat-latch to secure the collar and hidden snap closures on all pockets—the jacket is both simple and thoughtfully designed. "If there's one thing that really ties everything together, it's the jacket. That was a very collaborative effort by James and me, and Karuna [Scheinfeld, Vice President of Design at Woolrich]," said Hufnagel. Designed to be worn in varying climates—which the two will no doubt encounter on their year-long trip—the jacket is unlined and designed with a cut that favors layering underneath it. Rigid at first, it will no doubt get better with wear and tear—a theory CH will be testing firsthand in the coming weeks.
In total, the collection is extremely limited—extending to just 100 jackets in black, 100 in brown, 100 ponchos, 100 vests and 122 hats—and launches 1 November, 2013. Keep an eye on West America for hints toward future Woolrich collaborations and adventure updates as Jordan Hufnagel and James Crowe set off on their trip from Whistler, BC to Patagonia this week.
Studio images courtesy of West America, all others by Jordan Hufnagel for Cool Hunting
Off Piste encourages exploration. With each feature we'll introduce the people, products and places that make life outside the city possible and life in the city more down to earth.