When you create a company literally from the ground up, you have the opportunity to “make it right,” especially when it comes to environmental sustainability.
Nau, a new clothing line that debuted in February, 2007, strives to make it right in every aspect of its operation, from the creation of sustainable fabrics to the way shoppers get their products home.
How does it all work? Nau's philosophy revolves around three criteria: beauty, performance and sustainability. Though many designers focus on one or two of these (usually, beauty and performance), Nau believes it is the first apparel manufacturer to take all three into account when it is creating its classic lines: sweaters, tops, skirts, dresses, vests, pants, jackets and various accessories for women and men.
Working intimately with its partner mills, Nau has created the vast majority of the fabrics it uses in its collections, innovating with materials like corn-based PLA and recycled polyester. Their elegant but limited color palette minimizes the impact of dyes laden with toxic chemicals. Yes, they manufacture in Asia (as well as Canada), because producing their products close to the fabric source saves energy on transportation. No, they don’t copyright their fabrics, to encourage other manufacturers to use them if they wish.
As they boast on their website: “Sustainability touches all aspects of our products, from their subtle, timeless color choices to the ease with which they can be cared for to the extensive list of things they don’t have in them.”
I met Ian Yolles, Nau’s VP for Brand Communications, at the 2007 Good and Green marketing conference in Chicago, where he was dressed in a very chic long-sleeved black shirt made from a corn-based polymer called PLA. I was so impressed with Nau's philosophy, I went online and ordered several items to see if the product lived up to the plan. My Nau merino wool sweater has since become the centerpiece of my winter wardrobe.
Ian and I got together again over the phone recently to discuss sustainability and the clothing industry. Here’s a snapshot of that conversation.
What does the word “Nau” mean, and why did you choose it for the name of your company?
We wanted a name that would resonate with our customers. The word nau (pronounced “now”) is a Polynesian word of welcome and inclusivity, and is a key concept in the Maori language of New Zealand. The word is at the heart of the Maori welcome, which translates to “Welcome! Come in!” We seek to live up to our name by building and supporting inclusive communities of thoughtful, dedicated individuals.
How would you describe Nau’s couture?
We offer stylish, “classic” designs that are intended to be fashionable for years, not just one quick season. Five and even ten years from now, you’ll still want to wear Nau’s sophisticated-looking shirts, sweaters, and pants (photo credit, right: Daniel Sharp).
It’s easy for a company to say it’s sustainable. How does Nau practice what it preaches?
We create new fabrics that reduce the environmental impact creating clothing can have. We manufacture close to the source where our fabrics are made, which reduces energy in transporting fabrics. We rely on third-party laboratory and testing facilities
to verify that our fabrics contain no harmful chemicals from our restricted substances list. We build small stores so we don’t have to stock a lot of inventory, and encourage shoppers to have their choices shipped to them – at a 10% discount – so we don’t have to build bigger stores that use more energy and other resources. We also offset all carbon emissions from shipping and business travel, and purchase renewable energy credits for our stores and headquarters.
Your clothes are extremely chic! But they may also be more expensive than many women think they can afford.
Our price points are on par with our direct competitors, like The North Face or Patagonia. And we offer several incentives that reduce the cost: a store shopper gets a 10% discount if she opts to have a product shipped to her, rather than take it home on the spot. People can shop our sales. Regardless of what someone buys, the company donates 5% of the purchase price to a charity the shopper chooses. Plus, our clothes are built to last. Durability is a huge part of the equation. Unlike “fast fashions,” that are cheap and quickly disposable, Nau clothes will endure. So you may pay more for individual items, but potentially you’re buying fewer clothes over the long haul. In fact, our clothing is designed to be functional for a wide variety of activities across multiple settings, reducing the number of different items you need in your wardrobe.
This idea of buying clothes to last is unusual, given today’s trends toward shorter and shorter fashion seasons.
If people are serious about sustainability, they need to rethink their approach to what they buy. Nau gives consumers the opportunity to opt for quality, and when they do, they protect the environment, too.
Thumbs up, Nau.
NOTE: Nau's spring line has just become available, but you can still get great bargains on various winter designs. And if what you order doesn't fit, just pop it back in the bag it came from for an easy return.