Nau, Outdoor Eco Clothier, Lives to Ride Another Day
Sad becomes glad
Yep, it seems like a phoenix, Nau will rise from the ashes. Six weeks ago the eco outdoor apparel company, that some had dubbed 'Patagonia-meets-Prada', closed its doors due to a venture capital drought. But today the company has officially announced, to paraphrase Arnie, "We'll be back."
It won't be quite as it was, and won't make an immediate return, but Ian Yolles, head of marketing for Nau 1.0, was nevertheless excited to give us the good vibes on Nau 2.0, as he called it. Much more after the fold.Brand Loyalty
Ian says he felt "deep sadness" at the closure of Nau 1.0. But was consoled to some degree by "the outpouring of feeling on our blog, the flood of emails we received. It was inspiring, It was moving." We get the impression that this remarkable customer loyalty was in part the impetus that nudged Ian and others to get on the phone and see if Nau could be rescued. "It wasn't just the brand, or the product, (both of which we knew had value) that these customers were responding to, it was like they'd also connected to a larger idea," He explained. "Their incredible response has been so emotional and articulate."
For Ian Yolles this was the hardest part. "I felt like I was occupying two realities. In one there was this profound shock of a company closing down. Yet in this other, these customers communicating their passion for what the same company stood for."
So a small group of recently ex-Nau employees, including Ian, and head of design, Mark Galbraith, started looking for existing apparel companies to plug into.
Ian was surprised with how quickly their calls were returned. "I didn't have explain who Nau was. Most people said 'We've been watching you', 'We've been studying what you've been doing.' " Many said they weren't in position to help. But leads were pursued, and "A few days ago, a deal was closed, a lifestyle apparel company based in Santa Barbara, California, bought the rights to the Nau brand. That company is Horny Toad."
Cosying up with Horny Toad
Horny Toad, while not at first glance an expected match, do have symbiosis with Nau. They have an outdoor heritage, but make apparel for urban wear. They have an environmental and social conscience (some of their lines are made from organic cotton and Tencel, they buy renewable energy from their utility, 3 Degrees, and they were instrumental in creating the Planet Access Company - a shipping logistics firm who provides paid work and employment training opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities.) Ian said Horny Toad, whom he described as a very entrepreneurial and successful brand in their own right, will operate Nau as an autonomous brand. He is hopeful that with Horny Toad's committed backing, the Nau brand will have the opportunity to grow more 'organically', without the added business pressure of chasing ongoing rounds of external funding.
Whilst Horny Toad is headquartered down in Calfornia, Nau will remain in Portland, Oregon, and operate with a small team, initially of ex-Nau employees, growing to a group of about a dozen. This will include Ian and Mark, as well as Peter Kallen, (menswear desiger for Nau 1.0), Hal Arneson, (creative director), Jamie Bainbridge, (materials sourcing) and Andrew Barrett (supply chain). Lisa Street, who designed the women's line as a contractor will also return to the fold. A new general manager, Jolie Giese, not formerly from Nau, has been appointed by Horny Toad.
We asked Ian what was likely to change from the Nau experience that people had known. "Distribution will be the main difference. We wont have our own stores, although we'll continue to sell through our website [albeit a more user responsive one, we're told]. And we'll establish a wholesale channel." We asked if this meant the brand would be sold through clothing or outdoor stores? Both, by the sound of it. "Select, progressive outdoor dealers and urban boutique retailers," according to Ian. "Stores that get functional and stylish." As an example of such beasts, he cited Horny Toad's own Lizard Lounge, which fortuitously happens to be Portland, complete with ping pong table and an iMac bar!
Partners for Change
We wondered if Nau would retain their Partners for Change program? "The team are committed to the three cornerstones of Partners for Change - corporate philanthropy, customer direct giving and meaningful relationships with partners beyond the simple act of philanthropy," said Ian Yolles. However, because they won't have their own stores with a local geographic presence there may need to be a reduction in the total number of partners. And initially they might not be back to full 5% of purchases being donated to worthy causes. But Ian was adamant that whatever restructuring the program did receive, it would remain an industry leader.
The current Nau 1.0 website will remain selling product, probably until about 30 July 08. (Get those bargains while they last!) The sale of the original Nau's assets to Horny Toad, and the clearance sale of the spring and summer line is helping pay out remaining creditors. The new clean slate Nau 2.0 will come into effect from 1 August. However, because everything has been in a holding pattern for the past six weeks, the team have to restart the engines of production. Optimistically they figure they might, by October 2008, be selling the Fall/Holiday line, which had already been designed long ago. The Nau corporate blog, The Thought Kitchen, will keep customers engaged and informed on progress in the intervening period.
Apparently people like quality, tailored garments made of recycled polyester, organic cotton. corn starch and merino wool. Ian told us that from the day of the closing announcement, that Nau sales have gone through the roof. That, even at 50% off, revenue is greater than it ever was before. He does admit the reduced price helps here, but also feels that it has provided an opportunity for people to try the clothing and to pick up what many considered 'collectors items.' But on top of this he thinks that with more of the apparel being worn, a sort of tipping point has resulted, with a very positive spike in word-of-mouth interest.
Will this last through until October? Hard to say. But Ian observes that "A lot of people are rooting for us, wanting us to succeed. A lot of people really dig the product."
It is conceivable there will be some rationalisation in the number of styles offered, and the planned Nau luggage range will have to sit on the shelf a while longer, as a few business necessities get sorted first. "Even though we weren't on the Nau payroll any longer, we've been working fulltime for the best part of six weeks to get this result. But we now have a lot more work to do." Apparently their materials suppliers and production houses have been very supportive, so they might just get some of their distinctive apparel back in the market soon.
But Ian thinks we'll be impressed when it does eventually arrive. "The Fall line is amazing. It's very strong. The product just keeps getting better each season."
Ian informed us of some off-the-record conversations he'd had regarding the impact that Nau had had on the broader apparel and outdoor industry. Some remarkable influence in the most surprising of spaces. It was this inspirational reach of the Nau brand and its ethos that so captivated its customers, who in turn encouraged the ex-staffers to keep the dream alive.
And hats off to Horny Toad for their vision and gumption in getting behind the Nau concept, its team and the brand's devoted customers. Seems like Horny Toad live their own ideals too. This quote taken from their catalogue:
Go out on a limb. That's where the fruit is.
PS. If you've read this far and aren't quite sure what it all the fuss is about, try this post for more background info and links than you could possibly desire!
NB: of course, much of the above might change as Nau version 2 gets under way. It is very early days for this recreated company.
Bike and hot tub image found on Horny Toad website. Clothing images from Nau website.