In the spring of 2008, Nau was dead. Not struggling, not floundering, but belly-up. The Portland, OR-based company—founded in 2005 with an admirable, if lofty, mission to “unf–k the world” with its environmentally and socially conscious business model—had fallen victim to just a bit too much ambition, and more than a touch of bad luck.
Of course there was buzz among stylish circles about the fact that a company with a conscience was taking the time to make clothing that didn’t just do good but looked good—tailored to fit as well as it moved, and rendered in a versatile palette of muted neutral hues. And yes, socially-minded folks were impressed with innovative acts like giving 5% of profits to charity and creating 27 of the 30 sustainable textiles in the original line, from scratch, in conjunction with some of the world’s most forward-thinking mills. But Nau (pronounced “now”) was overextended, and with the economy collapsing around their ears, they folded.
But, unlike so many shuttered businesses, the core beliefs that informed the brand weren’t to blame. In fact, the company’s commitment to sustainability, plus its knack for designing functional clothing shot through with a smart, urbane minimalism, made for a business with so much intrinsic potential that it got to do something industry trailblazers who flame out before their time usually don’t. In the summer of 2008, just a few months after it closed, and thanks to fellow eco-clothiers Horny Toad, Nau came back to life.
A hefty percentage of profits still go to charity; textiles are still tracked from source, to mill, to factory; and environmental impact is still minimized wherever possible. And then there’s the clothing. From weatherproof outerwear to essential everyday accessories like belts and wallets, everything is still responsibly crafted from sustainable materials, cut to fit properly, and designed to last well beyond the constraints of a single season. So don’t call it a comeback—they’ve been here for years.