Friday, June 1, 2007

Nau: A New Ground Project ::.

This is a telling story about the generosity of the human spirit and the power of technology with business innovation to increase shareholder equity, by protecting the environment, enhancing social justice, and providing humanitarian relief worldwide.

Years ago, a new realization came to mind through my own independent business ventures. When you are building your own highway, it takes longer than taking a pre-paved course. Dirt roads take longer to drive down because there are no road signs, directions, or sure shots. It’s a long road but worth the wait. However, when you have successfully paved your individual highways, you will never get lost again.

Which brings us to Nau, an outdoor performance-based apparel collective with sustainability and philanthropy at its’ core, which has risen from the .com ashes of the early twenty hundreds. More importantly, the business model will positively change the way many established industries operate and develop business. Chris Van Dyke, Nau. CEO was recruited by Eric Reynolds of Marmot to man up his latest “bold idea.” Chris felt compelled to come out of semi-retirement for the goodness of all principles in life, which he obviously has faith.

As many Business Methodists know, venture capital is unfortunately a “must-have” to start-up a solid business. Nau is no exception. So legend goes, Van Dyke showed up to a VC conviction (oh sorry, I mean convention.) where most backers had already turned courteously away from his new ground project. Nonetheless, he took the stage at Venture Northwest and skipped the Power Point presentation all together and just “rolled with it” via index cards written on an epiphany, which Nau could change the face of the way corporate business operates. Van Dyke had written on those cards, “The Top 10 Reasons Why You Don’t Want to Invest in My Company.” Yes Sir, it was a shot that rang out louder for those who turned and backed away much earlier. “You could have heard a pin drop,” he would recall later. Van Dyke read from the cards – which include reasons like “Executive compensation is limited to 12 times payment of the lowest employee” – The Nau CEO, then tossed those reasons into the crowd.

In a corrupt business world, much like, the recent World Bank debacle, where the former CEO wasted global resources on personal gain. The Nau philosophy has moved away from the previous “what’s in it for me” bottom line into a three-dimensional theme called Triple Bottom Line. The idea fuses not only economic elements but also more importantly -- environmental and social aspects. In short, Nau understands meeting not only fiscal goals but it must bring together humanitarian and planetary objectives within the global business culture. One example of this, Nau gives each employee two paid Volunteer Days annually, which the associate gets to, choose the organization they want to volunteer.

As for a seasoned team culture, Nau is heavy on tangible assets from Patagonia, Nike, Adidas, and other corporate entities. This fresh start organically facilitated authentic Creatives jumping over to Nau with up to a 70% cut in annual pay. Not to mention, causing a stir throughout the industry. Can I get a witness? Is my mind playing tricks on me? Is this a collective of individuals that finally choose the right color of sustainable green? Actions sure do speak louder than words on an index card. Salute!

Eric Reynolds trademarked the name Webfront on February 14, 2005. Its’ description says, “ Computerized on-line retail store and mail order services that integrate Internet and website content into retail store locations in the field of consumer goods.” Reynolds, idea overlooks the traditional wholesale practice by opening Webfront’s, selling directly to customers.

A Webfront in 2007 is Nau’s physical Internet showroom, a conscious-art gallery of sorts. Its’ filled with an exhibition of apparel based-on -- beauty, performance, and sustainability. The stores are ecologically friendly and are only about 2,000 square feet. It’s been said, that Webfronts are approximately 40% more efficient than “old school” retail stores, on the sales-per-square foot model. Nau describes these Webfront stores as a new shopping experience that blends the traditional brick- and-mortar ideas of product display and direct consumer interaction with evolving Web-based practice of research and product comparison.

The Retail 2.0 concept, meaning, ride to the Webfront in your city, seek out products, cop a feel, grab a product scan card… hit up, what is called -- “ the product tree” and scan the card. The monitor gives individuals extensive information, imagery, and, even more options. If needed, a dedicated associate is close by to answer any question. After that, save 10% on each piece within the collection by ordering your purchase, inside the Webfront, with free shipping utilizing in store “web kiosks.” The client can, however, walk out with their purchase.

Instead of having “rock climbing” walls, like some established retailers have done in the past. Webfront’s have what’s called Giving Walls. The Giving Wall is an innovative marketing method. Two touch screen monitors with extensive information about Change Agents that work close with Nau on local, regional, and multi-national levels are showcased. Nau then donates, 5% of every transaction to social and environmental organizations. In addition, the Nau customer gets to hand pick the charity of choice. Striking an emotional chord throughout the entire process. A new audience obviously will be introduced to sustainability and the power of giving. Another footprint brought on by the Nau philosophy.

Enter; a sense of mystery comes to mind. This is not just another Web-based commerce machine. is about conscious commerce. Nonetheless, much is happening within this domain. However, you choose your own journey with simple navigation. The Thought Kitchen, The Collective… I almost forgot – the Products. Which button to push first? Oh hell, I click on… The Collective, just feels right -- loading…loading finally, you quickly realize that Lance Armstrong “type” athletes are no longer needed because the real heroes come out and play without multi-million dollar endorsement deals. The Collective is about authentic purpose.

Anyone can submit a story. A $1500 incentive is given to a select communal of Influencers, which change an individual’s corner of their world. That is why Nau gives its’ marketing dollars to individuals that tell compassionate stories through video, imagery, and composition. At last, itching to find out what The Thought Kitchen is all about. It didn’t take long. The Thought Kitchen is an extension of every element of; it’s about compelling content and education with the purpose of positive change. More than an eco-blog, it exposes multi-dimensional art forms.

The group’s primary mandate was to create a company “from the ground up and give it a kind of, frankly, moral character an individual should have,” says VP/Product Design Mark Galbraith, who acknowledges the brutal challenge in developing sustainability without that “crunchy” look. “For me it was an incredibly creative challenge to take these raw materials and do something high performance that was very stylish, that has great color and feel and at the same time steps out of the traditional paradigm of the outdoor uniform – to blend performance with more style-driven urban sensibility so the product has a much broader use in your life.” Nau didn’t design a product line with off the shelve fabrications.

For one, sustainable fabrics available at the time didn’t meet Nau’s rigorous but worthwhile criteria. They work very close with textile manufactures around the world. Nau has refined 28 textiles (and counting) that are made of recycled polyester, merino wool, a corn-based fabric called PLA (polylactic acid), and various organic cottons. Keeping with the beauty concept, most of the collections recycled polyester has an ultra soft hand. Moreover, Nau doesn’t keep trade secrets. The company has created a kind of “open source” program pertaining to who and where these sustainable textiles are made. You can’t change the world by keeping intellectual property secrets about sustainable materials. Though, I’ve heard many industry people say, “That’s suicide.” No that’s Nau. Besides, this team is hella seasoned and knows how to keep the competitive advantage without alienating others from doing well.

I must say, this “Performance Couture” strategy has been thought about and poorly executed in the past. However, Galbraith and communal are closing in on perfecting it. Nau has been compared to Helmut Lang, Prada Sport, and other houses throughout the aged fashion industry. An ironic element, the Nau collection is more technical than some other performance-based lines. Moreover, Nau doesn’t utilize logos on their beloved creations. Stop thinking about logos all together…because when a company builds its’ own sustainable performance fabrications, thinks up new cuts, engineers unique lines, and produces exclusive notions. There is absolutely no need for labels. This iconic formulation showcases a much-needed change of design DNA in an industry that is “insignia” heavy. As a result of which, the Influencers will support, educate, and the rest is history.

One thing is certain…the way business is accomplished will never be the same.

By Jonathan Shaun of

Make sure to check back for the Working Bikes Chicago short-documentary via*


Outside Magazine: February 2007 , Specialty News , Sustainable Industries Journal / SIJ News, DNRNEWS.COM, Advertising Age, Business Week, Women’s Wear Daily,