Anniversaries have a way of inviting reflection. They’re a chance to page back through the journals, crack open the photo album (or maybe scroll back up through the Instagram feed) and reflect on experiences, relationships, and travels.
It’s been a full decade since Nau introduced our first collection: a good time to take stock of this small but passionate experiment in how to create a more sustainable world. For ten years, we’ve worked on—and sometimes over—the bleeding edge of what’s possible, building a business around the philosophy that business can be a force for positive change. So naturally, we’re looking back, celebrating those ten trips around the sun—oh, and throwing a party.
It all began with a coffee shop and a codename. Working from the Daily Grind in Portland, Oregon, a dedicated crew of industry veterans set out to build a company, placing sustainability and philanthropy at its center. “To really use business for a positive change and allow sustainability and philanthropy to really take a center stage—that was Nau’s founding concept,” says Mark Galbriath, Nau’s general manager and a member of the founding team.
They codenamed the project “UTW”—short for Unfuck the World and began rethinking every aspect of the outdoor apparel business, from product design to fabric development, store design to philanthropic partnerships.
Those were exciting early years. There was no roadmap for how to create an entire collection of sustainable apparel, or a business that placed as much importance on positive change as on profits. B Corps hadn’t been invented yet, (Nau was one of the first) and 1% of sales was the gold standard for corporate giving—with most companies giving just tenths or hundredths of a percent. Nau set out to make an entire line—not just one or two pieces—from recycled, organic and natural fibers, and give five percent of every sale to our partner for change.
Nau designed a disruptive business from the ground up. It opted out of the industry norm at nearly every turn–from the invention of its own fabrics to the reinvention of its relationship with consumers. —Fast Company
The team adopted the Nau name in 2006, inspired by the Maori greeting “Nau mai! Haere mai!”, meaning “Welcome! Come In!” and created the ambigram logomark, which reads the same whether read right-side-up or upside-down. “It has this beautiful graphical quality of two vessels that are filling and emptying at the same time,” says Peter Kallen, Nau’s design director. (Read more about Peter’s sources of design inspiration in his Nau Team Highlight)
In 2007, Nau unveiled our first apparel collection, a line of sophisticated layers including iconic pieces like the Men’s Riding Jacket and the Women’s Urbane Jacket. “Versatility in product,” says Mark, “is a far better design criterion than any narrow, high-tech sport-specific use.” (Read more about Mark in his Nau Team Highlight).
Featuring modern silhouettes tailored from high-performance fabrics, the line established the qualities of aesthetic versatility and environmental responsibility which define the brand to this day.
Nau also launched our first stores, called “Webfronts” in 2007. Ten years ago, the concept of a showroom that enabled online ordering was unheard of; today it’s a trend. But those first stores were about more than the future of retail: they featured a Giving Wall that educated visitors on Nau’s Partners for Change. At checkout, customers were invited to donate part of the purchase price to one of those partners.
In the years that followed, Nau introduced iconic products like the Shroud of Purrin, Cocoon Trench and Transporter Blazer. And each season brought the introduction of innovative fabrics, from sustainable synthetics to novel natural blends. In 2009, the Randygoat collection introduced a versatile blend of merino wool and synthetic fleece. In 2012, Nau created the first collection of waxed organic cotton canvas. And in 2016, Nau became the first apparel brand to introduce a 100% recycled collection of down insulation.
In the last few years, the tumult of those early startup seasons has settled a little, but we remain passionate about doing business unusual. In 2013, Nau found a global partner in Black Yak, the South Korean mountaineering brand that shares our commitment to high-quality product and global vision. Their support enabled us to open the Nau Store in Portland, Oregon and to share our sustainable design ethos with an international audience.
On November 2, we’re inviting all of Nau’s friends and family to join us at the PDX store to celebrate the last decade and look ahead to the next ten years of Nau. We hope you’ll join us for the party, and in shaping the future of this experiment in positive change.