NAU, R.I.P.

Writing a column about fashion and shopping in Portland over the past couple of years has meant that a large proportion of this space has been devoted to the new: Portland's wild west has attracted pioneering entrepreneurs across industries, a phenomenon that the retail boom is a prime example of. Now that the economy is taking a dive, I'm nervously anticipating having to watch some of the same businesses I've bolstered shutter their doors. This week's victim: Nau, the ambitious sustainable active-wear company started by an all-star cast of Big Sportswear veterans, called it quits on Friday, May 2, posting a statement on the home page of their website (nau.com). Citing "the current highly risk-averse capital market," it explains that the company was unable to raise enough funds to continue its ambitious plan to bring stylish outerwear to a hip, eco- and socially conscious demographic.

Even before it came to this, the company had been criticized for everything from its business model to its price points to its drab color palette. But even critics tipped their hat to the company's founding principles. As it reads on the website, where the entire line can now be purchased at a 50 percent clearance discount, "At this time, investors are loathe to invest in anything; especially, it appears, a company like Nau that has the audacity to challenge conventional paradigms of what a business should be."

On a much brighter note, another local entrepreneur, Elizabeth Dye, who recently took over complete control of The English Dept. boutique after founding partner Joy Cohen bowed out, is debuting her spring/summer line this week. In a move that echoes the splashy, new wave-y about-face taken by her colleague Adam Arnold this season, Dye is overhauling her own conventions.

Citing the pressures of the election, a particularly long, monotonous winter, and this new chapter of independence in her career as possible triggers, Dye sums up the guiding emotion of this collection as "Enough! Enough of acting too cool, of boring sameness, of modern for modern's sake." Seizing on a zeitgeist of restlessness and urgent resistance to the oppressions bearing down on us, Dye threw out her safeties and gravitated toward design elements she'd previously feared: Purple. Neons. Busy patterns. (A wide departure from Dye's preceding body of work, which focused on Sunday dressing with occasional Victorian airs, not to mention the bustling wedding and occasion dresses that her shop specializes in.)

Although dress-heavy, Dye (who wisely classes up the crazier fabrics to avoid a too-childish effect) is also promising "wacky tops," shorts, skirts, and in a new foray, a bathing suit. Here's looking forward to the reward of fresh ideas. (The English Dept., 1124 SW Alder, Fri May 9, 7 pm, RSVP to 224-0724, and arrive early as space is limited)