A Visit to Nau

The following post is brought to you by Nau. Our partners are handpicked by the Design Milk team because they represent the best in design.

11.23.15 | By
A Visit to Nau

Nau’s company story—from getting their footing as a primarily online-based to opening a store in über hip Portland—is one that is increasingly common in these days of online shopping. That trajectory means that by the time a brand is ready for a retail space, they already have a solid identity. And Nau certainly brought a strong company identify and ethos to the table. From ensuring that sustainable is the core focus of their designs to minimizing the environment impact of fashion with solutions like their newly released recycled down, the balance between style and the environment is a core value of the Nau brand. So it certainly followed that the retail space would need to bring the same thoughtful approach to design.

To translate their fashion approach to the retail sphere, Nau team partnered with ENGIN, a Portland-based creative agency to conceptualize the store’s design.  In addition to sustainable design, local quickly became the store’s theme with Portland-based vendors and fabricators. And because Nau is all about blending new processes with materials to innovate, ENGIN developed a palette with a balance of raw materials and minimal treatments—FSC-certified White Oak, FSC-certified white laminate, hot rolled steel (which contains recyclable materials and is itself recyclable), and water-based clear finishes. The goal was to create a space that was both timeless and exploratory while also being inviting. And, as with Nau’s fashion, every product, element, application, and even site line was carefully considered.


We spoke with Mark Galbraith, Nau’s General Manager, about the store’s concept and design and got a sneak peek at its design just before their November 17 opening day. Here’s what Mark had to say about what creating this new space in Portland:

How did you chose the location for the store?

The Pearl District in Portland is a natural fit as it’s a hub of restaurants, shops, etc. However, the specific section of the Pearl District that we’re located in is a bit separated from the main shopping streets, which was part of our intent. If you walk the blocks around the Nau shop, you’ll find a collection of architecture and design companies, modern furniture and home goods shops and some wonderful restaurants and cafes. It’s an area filled with things that we are drawn to and believe our fans are drawn to as well.


What is it like to transition to having a physical space after years of being an online-only company?

In addition to our online presence, Nau has also available through select retailers around the US and Canada. However, we are thrilled to be able to offer to our consumers a physical brand experience with our products. We believe it is the right complement to our online business.


What was the easiest part of creating the store?

Our partners at ENGIN, who worked on the design for the store, were wonderful. They were able to absorb the core values that are most important to us and translate those into the space that you see today. There is always refinement in the final details of the concept, but from the very first rounds of design they captured the brand. It was exactly the design that we would imagine for a Nau shop. Additionally our architect construction partners, GBD and Colas, did an incredibly job of bringing that design vision to life. The timeline we had for this store buildout was very aggressive and they didn’t miss a beat.


Are there things that you couldn’t do online that you’re looking forward to doing in a retail space?

High quality, sustainable materials are incredibly important to the apparel we design. The tactile experience is one of the most impactful moments we have with a customer. So, it’s incredibly exciting to have a physical space in which people can touch and feel the fabrics, try things on and move in them. People will be able to experience a part of the brand that is very difficult to convey online. This will also give us an opportunity to have more personal interaction with our audience through events, partnerships, etc. A few of our Partners for Change are in Portland, so we look forward to working with them on events as well to help bring that program to life for our customers.


Are there products that will be in the store but not online?

We’ll have a few local partners like James Knives and Juniper Ridge that will be in-store only, however for the most part the store and website will have the same product collection. We believe it’s important that customers can have a similar experience of our brand no matter what the touchpoint is. That said, we also realize that people have different needs depending on where, when and how they are engaging with us. So, we will certainly be thoughtful about those needs and expectations when planning future collections so that our audience always see the best we have to offer.


Nau’s store is open for business as of 11/17/15. Pop in and check it out at 304 NW 11th Ave., Portland, OR 97209 (phone: 503-224-9697) or online at

Amy Azzarito is the author of "Nest: The Secret History of Things that Make a House a Home" forthcoming in 2020.