By Janette Crawford
In late June, less than two months after we lamented its closing, clothing manufacturer Nau announced its re-birth. It had been purchased by a socially progressive outdoors clothier in Santa Barbara, Cal., called Horny Toad.
Horny Toad President Gordon Seabury says he plans to keep Nau's social and environmental philosophies intact while improving the company's bottom line. Mark Galbraith, Nau VP of Design and one of the initiators of Nau 2.0., describes the two brands as complementary, though they are designed for different aesthetics. Working together will maximize both brands' efficiencies, volume purchasing and exploration of new technologies.
We were most curious about the fate of Nau's innovative retail structure: the webfront store. Nau 1.0 focused on Internet retail, with a model that allowed them to conserve resources by maintaining fewer (and smaller) bricks-and-mortar stores. After trying on and testing products in a Nau store, shoppers were encouraged (with discounted prices and free shipping) to order them online via an in-store kiosk, rather than take home the floor samples.
When Nau 2.0 launches on August 1, the webfront model will remain intact, operating not from Nau's own brand stores, but from wholesale partner locations. Its first partner will be Lizard Lounge in Portland, a retail shop/hangout operated by Horny Toad. A small section of the store will be devoted to Nau products, complete with the kiosk, where shoppers can order products online rather than purchase from store stock. Nau has not yet committed to any other wholesale partners, but they are considering both specialty outdoor and fashion retailers, like Paragon Sports in New York City.
"I assume that we will have some that will look more like a traditional retailer and some that will want to use the kiosk concept," says Galbraith. "In the first year it would be safe to say there will be a mix of dealers that will evolve over time toward the kiosk concept of the webfront."
New partner Horny Toad will also evolve toward the webfront model -- which they had already been exploring pre-purchase, says Seabury. Horny Toad plans to begin working on a kiosk program that can be introduced to the stores that already carry its products.
The new joint company also extends social responsibility beyond your typical green clothing brand. Combining with Horny Toad gives Nau access to a Chicago distribution center called Planet Access Company (PAC), which employs people with developmental disabilities. Seabury helped found PAC in 1997. It provides meaningful work for its employees, and also helps fund an adventure vacation program for disabled adults, many of whom have never vacationed before (Horny Toad employees are able to participate in the vacations as volunteers).
Horny Toad will adopt Nau's Community Partner model, giving a percentage of gross sales to charitable partners that shoppers are able to select from a list. Now that Nau will be sold through wholesale partners rather than dedicated brand stores, however, the program details will need to change. The company is looking into a code number that could be printed on a customer's receipt, for use on the Nau website after purchase.
Galbraith says Nau 2.0's scale, scope and speed will tone down. "It will give us more time to catch our breath and fine-tune details, which we're really looking forward to." But prior to the close, Nau had a new website and the fall/holiday 2008 line ready for rollout. Both will launch August 1.
Janette Crawford covers fashion and sustainability in her blog, Fashion Loves People, where you can find more photos of the Nau fall line.
Photo credits: Nau
Thanks for the update on our re-launch. One point of clarification. We won't be introducing our new fall/holiday 2008 line until sometime in October. That's also when we anticipate the introduction of our new website.