The Adventure Life with Steve Casimiro Not Nau? Idealistic New Brand Goes Under
Text and photos by West Coast Editor Steve Casimiro
It was a valiant effort to reinvent the business of outdoor clothing, but Nau has shut down operations and closed its five retail stories, the most recent of which opened less then two weeks ago. After burning through $35 million in financing, the Portland company was unable to convince additional investors that its unconventional take on business, sustainability, and charity could be profitable. Nau is the third outdoor brand to go under in less than a month; Mion and GoLite footwear recently were shuttered by parent Timberland.
Nau was founded a little over a year ago by veterans of Nike, Adidas, and Patagonia on the idea that a company could make sustainable, eco-friendly products, change the way we buy clothes, and give a whopping five percent of its sales for the greater good (that’s revenues, not profits). The company only sold its products online and through its own stores, where it kept a tiny inventory. By discounting the price 10 percent, Nau encouraged customers to have their purchases shipped from Nau’s warehouse, which used 1/16 the energy. It actively worked with fabric suppliers to develop best-practice environmentally responsible treatments for its apparel. It offered a menu of organizations for its customers to direct the five percent of their purchase that Nau would donate. And it made very cool clothes.
Nau’s clothes were expensive and its urban-gothic-outdoor look wasn’t for everyone. Moody colors, body-hugging silhouettes, and a decidedly post-modern style were shocking to an outdoor culture more comfortable with Caltrans orange, fire engine red, and canary yellow. But Nau succeeded by designing some of the first clothes that truly were technical enough for the trail and hip enough for the city. In Nau, you could do either without compromise and meanwhile not abandon your environmentalist and ethical values.
The company’s bold philosophy seems less a part of the outdoor world and more akin to the Silicon Valley culture, where business failures are seen as learning experiences to propel you into the next, hopefully more successful venture. Let’s hope that’s the case with the Nau entrepreneurs: Their ideas are worthy, their ethics ring true, and their clothes rock. Another venture would be greeted with equal excitement, I have no doubt.
For the time being, you can buy remaining inventory through the Nau website at 50 percent off.
- Nat Geo Expeditions