It's long been a cliché to imagine that Portland fashion consists of waterproofing and activewear, with hordes of outdoor enthusiasts forgoing dress code and showing up to a nice restaurant armed in fleece and Lycra. This is Oregon after all, and that is simply Oregon style. So it was, so it is, so it ever shall be.
In recent history, a lot of people have been working to expand the scope of that point of view, from edgy young designers to sophisticated boutique buyers. Nevertheless, this is still Portland, and even the most indie, DIY creative type finds themselves faced with the inevitable rainy bike ride, when your vintage such-and-such really starts to show its age. Most of us choose to shiver rather than consent to the sheer anachronism of donning a Patagonia or Columbia logo, but I'm pleased to announce that there is now a much more pleasing solution: Nau.
The brainchild of founder Eric Reynolds, Nau is a quintessential Portland product, bridging our collective need for functional apparel, our increasingly fashion-forward aesthetic, and our progressive attitudes toward the environment and business. Along with a team of seasoned professionals, most of whom are previous employees of Adidas and Columbia Sportswear, Reynolds has founded a company based on a series of ideals: First, to create an outdoor apparel company that sells directly to the consumer, cutting out the retail middle man; second, to use technology to fuse the experience of in-store and online shopping (they refer to their website as a "web front"); and to practice the belief that a business is responsible for more than its own profits, through a commitment to sustainability and philanthropy.
For the shopper, this translates to what Nau's Ian Yolles describes as an experience that "takes the discontinuity out" of how many people already make purchases: You begin by researching online, but rather than risk a poor fit or misleading visual image, you seek out the item in the store, then go back home to the internet and hunt for it at the lowest price. When you visit a Nau location, you can shop the old-fashioned way and leave the store with your purchase in hand, but the preferred method is to order your selections as you would online, and have them shipped to you—with a 10 percent discount added as an incentive. This process allows them to keep the bulk of their merchandise in one location, with their retail space set up to be smaller—almost gallery-like—without the clutter of stacks and rounders. And if you're really attached to the online shopping experience, you can use one of the touch-screen kiosks set up in the store to order an item you've just tried on—just as you would on the web—and pull up detailed information about the technical or sustainable details of each garment.
Based on a trio of design principles, "beauty, performance, and sustainability," Nau employs environmentally friendly biopolymer fabrics in modern, minimalist shapes and a neutral, mostly monochromatic color palette, without emphasis on logos. Designed by an in-house team headed by Mark Galbraith, the garments are produced in Hong Kong, Thailand, and China. While I generally shrink from garments made in those places, Nau doesn't cut corners: They have their own labor code of conduct, including everything from environmental standards to human health and safety, to laborers' right to organize, overtime pay for workers, and more. And beyond a signed piece of paper, Nau audits each production site to ensure they are adhering to the code.
Nau's good works don't end there. They are investing in a carbon-offset program to compensate for the carbon produced from every aspect of their company's operation, from shipping to travel—a program that will, for instance, plant a certain number of trees to counteract the environmental impact of Nau. They also invite the customer to choose from a roster of international, national, or local nonprofits to which 5 percent of your purchase will be donated.
No matter how honorable the intentions of a company may be, fashion-conscious people will simply not buy something that doesn't look good—and that is Nau's greatest advantage. The pieces are as cool as they are functional, and you won't have any more qualms about wearing them to happy hour or Forest Park.
(Nau is available for online order now at nau.com, with its first store opening in Bridgeport Village slated for the end of this month.)It will drizzle for shizzle: firstname.lastname@example.org