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Mark Galbraith Says the Smarter Apparel Company Starts Nau

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Portland-based Nau is an almost one-year-old outdoor apparel company formed by smart people who came from Marmot, Nike and Patagonia, and VP of product design Mark Galbraith is the super design-centric person who sources Nau’s responsible materials and fabrication. Founder Eric Reynolds based the company on a philosophy called UTW (that would be “Unfuck the World”). So why start a company at all? Well, to exert some control or influence on culture, for one. But Nau’s mission was also to take design as a philosophical basis for changing the way business is done (woohoo!).

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The Nau product is just the physical representation of that philosophy; they established an Ideal Garment Criteria. First they really tried to twist the traditional uses for certified, responsible organic cottons and wools (no hemp-y, crunchy fabrics here), as well as polyester made from post-consumer waste. The clothes themselves are designed with recyclability in mind so they can deconstruct your parka easily. Another material, polylactic acid (PLA), is made from corn.


Then, where to manufacture? This was a tough one. Each material was sourced from from a different place (mostly throughout Southeast Asia) and as much as they wanted to manufacture in the US, they’d be spending a lot of money to be shipping the materials over here. So they created a third party non-profit that would advocate for their workers rights in China. Shipping was streamlined (envelopes, not boxes) and offsets were investigated for freight. And an end of life strategy allows pieces to be recycled.

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Perhaps most interesting is Nau’s aesthetic perspective, which addresses the hyperflaky, planned-obsolescence world of fashion. In color and design, Nau’s clothes are timeless and multifunctional (we believe he said “not like someone puked up a bunch of Skittles on it”). A store is coming to San Francisco, where, like their Portland store, you’ll get a 10% discount if you have your sale shipped to you instead (so they don’t have to pay the shipping costs to stock the store). And, perhaps more satisfying, the consumer even has a choice at the moment of spending to decide which non profit partner that 5% of their purchase can go towards.

But back to the point of today: How do you measure success, asks Compostmodern moderator Joel Makower. There’s no real matrix or way to measure success, and no company can be 100% sustainable, but Galbraith says they just keep asking questions and adjusting, even though maintaining optimism when finding the answers can be crushingly difficult and depressing (his old boss at Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, is notoriously pessimistic). But transparency is the key, and they know that everyone is watching (check out their blog). And get this, here’s a central driving theme in Nau’s philosophy: “The world doesn’t need another outdoor clothing company.” Well, we’d say they’re most certainly not just “another” company.

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