Nau is the tipping point for Eco-Luxury. It means “welcome” to the Maori in New Zealand, but it also means welcome to a whole new way of designing, manufacturing and selling product—the socially responsible way.
We stopped by their LEED Gold certified offices/studio in Portland, OR to hear what they were up to, get a sneak peak at the gear and learn about about their mission to change nearly everything about the way performance clothing is created and sold.
Founded by accomplished adventurer Eric Reynolds in 2005 and run by a fast-growing group of 35 industry professionals (with pedigrees from companies including Nike, Patagonia, The North Face, Starbucks, Limited Brands and Adidas) who are seizing the opportunity to change the status quo, the team aspires “To do well by doing good.”
Technical outdoor clothing and casual sportswear are at the core of Nau’s product range—including underwear, base layers, fleece insulation, soft and hard shell pants and jackets—in fabrics made from recycled materials like soda bottles, 100% organic cotton, 100% wool, and most importantly biopolymer fabrics such as PLA, an incredibly versatile synthetic fiber made from corn. While this gear performs as well as the rest of the high-end performance market, it’s how it looks that sets it apart. The lines are clean, the colors subdued, the details and tailoring impeccable, and the style meant to endure the comings and goings of fashion trends (think classics by (early) Prada Sport and Jil Sander).
We saw production samples from the first and second deliveries and were really impressed. They're not ready to fully unveil the line, but here are a few details showing the good looking, weather appropriate seam treatments; flat buttons that are comfortable under bag straps; and almost architectural inside details featuring laser cut holes and heat taped seams.
The design team makes use of their long-term relationships with fabric manufacturers by pushing them to the limits of technology, fabrication and skill to create and increase demand for new kinds of sustainable materials. They ensure that Nau products are made in factories that agree to social and environmental audits by a third party, package them in sustainable and renewable materials, and are even recyclable and biodegradable after their usable life is over.
You won’t see Nau products at your neighborhood sports store or big box retailer. Though they aim to sell nearly all of their items online (to decrease costs, reduce their carbon imprint and centralize their operations), they are pioneering a new kind of retail presence they call a Webfront. It is a store, and you can purchase clothing there and take it home with you. The goal, however, is to let you experience the gear and the brand, and to make your selections and place your order online at one of the nau.com kiosks in the store or when you get back to your browser or choice. To encourage you to make your purchases online, Nau will reduce their retail prices by ten percent. They figure that the more people buy in the store, the larger the space, staff and storage they need. All of these costs go back to the customer, so by keeping costs down they can afford to reduce the price of items sold online. The first four Webfronts are scheduled to open sometime in spring 2007 and will likely be in Portland, Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco, and like their office will be designed to be as green as possible given their location. Nau is working with Skylab Design Group and Green Building Services to develop their Webfronts.
The Nau way includes another gesture. They have decided to contribute 5% of their sales to national/regional/local social and environmental organizations. When you make your purchase you will be asked which organization you would like 5% of your sale to go to, engaging you in the process (and perhaps in the benefit) of charitable giving.
From their ambigram logo to their passion for beauty, performance and sustainability, their innovative business model, surprisingly reasonable prices and their desire to do good (and have fun while doing so), we’re expecting great things from Nau on.
Check out Nau.com (designed by Blast Radius) for their blog and growing content. Their first product season will be available online starting in January 2007, but stay tuned to CH for photos of the line before then.