With a decade of production under their belt, Portland-based apparel brand Nau is still aiming for the standards it set back in 2005. Nau started with a vision for products that were sustainable and luxurious, outdoor-ready and modern, utilitarian and sleek and socially conscious (the brand donates two percent of profits as part of their Partners for Change program). These were the “core ideologies,” which to pessimists sound like fantasies. But Nau saw what few could have seen. Since then, there’s been a blurring of the line between the metropolitan lifestyle and the outdoors, and material innovations that allows for great advances for brands like Nau. We spoke with Mark Galbraith, general manager of the brand, to find out what’s changed.
“It’s taken literally 10 years to develop the kind of textile palette you need to make a sophisticated product that is beautiful, has the highest level of sustainability possible at the time, and gets you the kind of capabilities you’d expect from a high-end, performance-oriented brand,” Galbraith says. “It’s been a lot of work to get here.”
For Nau, sustainability permeates everything. Galbraith explains the lion’s share of your carbon footprint comes from raw materials and the chemicals used to produce the actual product. After a product leaves the warehouse, sustainability becomes all about the life-cycle of the product. Nau focuses on sustainability from the earliest sketches, to choosing raw materials, to the product’s life-cycle and beyond; with garments being recyclable. From the moment of a design’s inception, there’s a genuine consideration of where the product is going—and how it’s going to perform when it gets there.
For example, the Cranky—a waterproof, breathable, stretchy jacket. For this garment, Nau sought out superfine recycled polyester yarn, which simply didn’t exist 10 years ago. The stretch polymer lets the piece move like a natural fiber knit, which means wearers have a huge amount of freedom of movement. “Our point of view was to have the Cranky jacket stretch as if it’s a comfortable T-shirt, but still have the durability of an outerwear shell piece. We’re knitting at an extremely high count. You hardly see the construction, it’s so fine,” Galbraith explains.
As the name implies, the Cranky is essentially a cycling jacket. But you wouldn’t know it until you release a seat-flap that adds protection and visibility through a reflective strip. Then take the Riding Jacket, which is a take on the classic blazer, but with all the modern tailoring and technical performance elements that Nau can offer; meaning it functions as a weather-resistant, soft shell jacket that’s perfect for commuting. In Galbraith’s eyes, having pieces that are multi-use is part and parcel to the sustainability agenda. A single article of clothing that’s adaptable means you only really need one jacket.
“The minute you step outside, you’re not covered by four walls,” says Galbraith. “You’re not in an air-conditioned or climate-controlled environment. You’re there where weather can happen. It’s changeable. It can be spontaneous. All of a sudden, you’re in an environment where what you have on has got to work through what the day brings you.”
While Nau’s achievements in sustainability and technical performance are impressive, they are even more so when you consider what the collection actually looks like. There’s arresting asymmetry, contemporary silhouettes, and deployable functionality. Nothing compromises the aesthetics. That’s how you get ponchos fit for runways and close-cropped riding jackets that double as blazers.
Why chase admittedly aspirational standards? Why not compromise? Because that’s what you do on your 10th birthday. You have your cake and eat it, too.
Images courtesy of Nau