When the Portland, Oregon-based outdoor apparel company Nau made their debut in March 2007, I was thrilled to finally find a brand that I could stand behind and look good in. With the exception of few, outdoor clothing makers rarely follow fashion trends and decorate shapeless, one size fits all, cotton or poly-crapilene basics with tacky prints or gigantic logos that make me feel like a walking billboard. For the first time, Nau’s sophisticated team of former execs and designers from Patagonia, Nike, The North Face and Adidas introduced chic, logo-free, high-performance apparel produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner (link to design philosophy). While their products perform as well as any technical gear on the market, it was their sleek style with a conscience that set Nau apart. With detailed tailoring, subdued colors and durable, eco-friendly fabrics worthy in the mountains and in public, I thought it was too good to be true.
Nau’s ambition was obvious and they had a clear vision that they stood behind. They pushed the envelope, trying to shift the industry toward centralizing social and environmental integrity behind every decision–from materials to merchandise to distribution. They even donated 5% of all sales to the charitable organization of your choice, which made you feel good in more ways than one about purchasing their competitively priced garments.
But with great ambition comes big risk. Sure enough, on May 2, 2008, after just one season, with five-retail stores open and four underway, Nau announced it was closing its doors due to an inability to secure additional financing. I was devastated by the news and held onto my few Nau pieces like they were vintage Gucci.
Then on June 24, 2008, Santa Barbara-based lifestyle apparel company Horny Toad announced its acquisition of Nau and they got a second chance. Of course I was excited, but also weary—was Nau going to be able to maintain the same integrity that formed their unique brand? Fortunately, Nau re-emerged with a scaled back staff of the same core crew while compromising neither style nor integrity. They’re currently distributing their fall/winter line through nau.com and select like-minded retailers.
As for their design? When I received my wide neck, ultra soft, Zque-certified Merino Wool Hoody, low profile, 850-fill, recycled polyester Down Shirt and essential striped Merino Wool Long Sleeve Shirt, I immediately put it to the test at the crag and on the street. Not only could I move freely and not fear destroying it in the mountains, I didn’t run home to change before going out on the town. But it’s not just about wearing a cool jacket. Nau’s resurrection proved that with perseverance and a pure vision aimed to do good, companies can get that second chance to succeed.