Nau: A company Ahead of its Time?

Photosource: grooveygreen.com featuring Nau clothing

NY Times Fashion & Style section announced this morning that the much coveted Nau is going out of business. Sundance Channel did a piece on them this week too in their ‘Big Ideas for a Small Planet’ which I blogged about on May 3rd. Unfortunately Nau’s website posts the sad letter from the team stating that that they are ‘saying goodby for Nau’.

While we knew the company took on significant risk, and that there were questions from the beginning as to whether the model would actually work, I must admit that I increasingly felt confident in the staying power of their brand. I’ve been reading about Nau since last September, and just last month a half dozen people I knew asked me if I had heard about this company. They successfully seem to be generating ‘buzz’ around their company.

Yet at the same time, significant investment went into the company – from its design and manufacture of high tech ‘green’ fabrics to designing and sewing the clothes, to building brick and mortar stores and creating a cutting edge website. Unlike the mom and pop online green boutiques, Nau was positioned as the next Nike from the get go. One reviewer I read last fall noted correctly that the company is postured to either succeed beautifully or fail miserably. Unfortunately, it seems that the latter has won out.

Why? Led by former Nike executives, the Nau team is not lacking in the experience, leadership or management arena. While they are ‘green’ in the environmental sense, management wise, this is not the case. So what is it? According to the team, the economy is cited as the main factor in their decline. Slowing consumption, rising fuel costs, rising cost of goods, decreasing purchases….we have heard it more than once in the last few months. So while I agree that the economy is forcing more than a handful of retailers to change course and downsize, I would also venture to say that a few other things could have been done to help stay afloat. (1) One is that their prices seemed high for what they offered and for who they targeted. While I can absolutely appreciate their stylistic, very green apparel, Americans may not be quite ready for those prices at to buy on the green principle as such. Take a look at Cheapest Dress in the World – with expectations as low as $8.98, can we stretch our imaginations to pay $300 for a spring coat?
(2) Color schemes and styles may have been too muted. Everything seemed a bit too dark. Not enough brightness, freshness and newness. Or maybe they were not geared toward women as much as men? I am not sure, but something seemed slightly off. (3) Finally, with REI and Patagonia ‘down the street’ so to speak, or one ‘url tab’ away on the Internet, one has to have a pretty compelling reason to go to Nau rather than long-established, trusted brands. Both of these companies are increasingly stepping out of the pure outdoor gear space and into more fashion-forward ‘office-adaptable’ clothing as well as are increasingly ‘green.’

Also, Nau mentioned that their stores encouraged people to ship whatever products they purchase to their homes rather than carry away with them. I would have to say that this seems troublesome. Counterintuitive from every angle. Isn’t one satisfaction from shopping the ability to carry the item home with you and brighten your day? Also, isn’t walking home with something intuitively more ‘green’ than having it shipped to your house? From a consumers standpoint, I can see how this policy would be troublesome.

All in all however, I must say that I am sorry to see Nau go. I really admired their mission, vision and core company principles. Part of me thinks they may be jumping the gun—who knows what could have been possible if they road the wave a little longer? At the same time, in this economy nothing is certain, and if product, price and promotion are slightly off mark, well, there is not much hope for survival. Wishing the team at Nau all the best in their next venture.

Send me your comments to greencottonblog@gmail.com or post below.

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