Oct. 02--Nau started in 2007 with the best of intentions and $35 million.
The intentions lasted more than 14 months. The $35 million did not.
On Wednesday, the sustainability-themed company found out that not only are there second acts in the American apparel business, but that there may be an audience in Japan, Europe and South Korea.
Black Yak Co. Ltd. of South Korea announced it acquired Nau from Santa Barbara, Calif.-based apparel brand Horny Toad for an undisclosed amount of money. Nau (pronounced "now") will function as a wholly owned, independent subsidiary of Black Yak, a 40-year-old Korean outdoor company.
Nau plans to add two Black Yak executives to its Portland leadership team: Jun Suk Kang will be president; and DH Lee will be vice president and secretary. Both join Nau co-founder and general manager Mark Galbraith in being responsible for the brand's global growth strategy.
"It's really exciting and encouraging for us," Galbraith said Wednesday. "We've been looking for while for a partner with the size and scale of infrastructure that gives Nau its best opportunity to grow."
Nau set out to be a different kind of clothing company when it was founded half a dozen years ago by Nike, Patagonia and Adidas veterans.
That ethos started with the company name, which mean "welcome" in the language of the Maori, the native people of New Zealand. Company also thought the pronunciation of the name was cool, reflecting the urgency of changing consumer habits.
That shift would take some getting used to, essentially calling for people to pay more than typical retail price for clothing that the company hoped would be timeless in design and could be kept for more than a season or two of fashion. Nau had plans on how to cut down energy consumption for delivery. Management planned for 140 stores nationwide by 2010.
It was a high-concept business plan. But the first 14 months, at the front door of the one of the worst credit crisises in the nation's history, didn't exactly grease the skids to success for the company.
Nau announced on May 2, 2008, that it was shutting down.
Not long after, Horny Toad chief executive Gordon Seabury began talks with a handful of Nau employees about resurrecting the brand. After that, Nau grew slowly and steadily in the Lizard Lounge, the Pearl District retail store owned by Horny Toad, which also is an outdoor apparel brand.
In its new state, which the small group of insiders called Nau 2.0, the company had six employees.
It's grown to 17 today and, in addition to the two Black Yak executives coming aboard at the Portland headquarters, the company will be hiring others to handle the details of running a business that previously had been shared with Horny Toad. Hiring will also be done to accommodate the brand's target of expanding its line to retailers in Europe and Japan by fall 2014.
Galbraith, who declined to reveal Nau's annual revenue figures, said it has grown 20 to 30 percent in recent years and is expected to do so again this year.
The design team from Nau 1.0 is the same in Nau 2.0, said Galbraith, who previously had worked for Patagonia, Polartech pioneer Malden Mills and Lowe Alpine Systems.
The company will retain a design sense aimed at an outdoors person with an urban sensibility.
While some people may not understand that description, the executives at Black Yak -- named for an animal found in the mountains of Asia --get it, Galbraith said.
"Our design concepts are more aligned with Euro-Japanese sensibilities than outdoors," Galbraith said. "We're always looked for significant opportunities where we'd love to get our brand in there."
-- Allan Brettman