Social change and sustainability through philanthropy
Founded in 2006, Nau Clothing is a Portland-based clothing company that utilizes design by embracing social change and sustainability through philanthropy. They have a small team of amazing talents working at Nau, (pronounced now).
Nau’s main womenswear designer Carey Mullet has been on the back-end of the industry for nearly two decades. A fresh-faced gal with long, tousled locks and a flair for both high-fashion and comfortable clothing, Mullet’s dream as a little girl was to integrate structure and functionality into high-end clothing, and she’s had years of practice doing so. A native of Oregon, she was born in the beautiful countryside, where she credits her rural upbringing and a 30-mile hike through the Oregon trails with her father to paving the way for her outdoor aesthetic towards clothes. Mullet attended design school at Bassist College (before it became known as the Art Institute) in Portland and received her associates degree in apparel design. She earned her bachelors of arts in apparel design at Oregon State University. While still in college, she landed her first job in the costume department at the Portland Opera, where she worked alongside costume designer extraordinaire Francis Britt. Prior to Nau, she worked at Patagonia for 13-years, as well as Adidas.
Carey Mullet draws a fine line between being an obsessive compulsive and an introvert at heart, claiming that these are two main qualities many people attribute in any creative field. She’s even admitted to covering her bedroom walls with Scotch tape when she is busy prepping for a collection. She loves creating spaces, and if she wasn’t designing, she’d move to a remote cabin in the woods where she could take off on traveling adventures. With so much access to information coming from this digital age, she finds it challenging to stick to just one source for inspiration. She is greatly inspired by images and prints and adores sites including the Sartorialist, Pinterest, Miss French and London Fashion Week.
When Nau originally opened its doors its business model was to sell direct-to-customers, and was committed to giving 5 percent sales to nonprofit organizations. Since it is a for profit company, it has to support the nonprofits in order to make a serious change. This was one of their goals from the beginning. In 2008, they entered into the wholesale market and maintained 2 percent of its revenue which it donates to organizations like Ecotrust, People for Bikes and Mercy Corps. This sort of thinking created a deeper level of engagement with its customers, while bringing awareness simultaneously, which Mullet is proud to be a part of.
It’s the thought of turning a negative into a positive. I thoroughly enjoy taking an idea that’s bad or one that needs a bit of rebooting, and turning it into a good and positive outcome. We also have a group of extraordinary people from a stream of eclectic backgrounds that make the brand and my job so amazing. These are people who come from a genuinely exercised and authentic background. It’s the best of the best here, and a lot of them formerly worked at Patagonia. That expertise way of thinking probably helped the company boom during the recession while a lot of other companies suffered.
How has your time at Patagonia been compared to Nau?
I love Patagonia. They are like family to me. I came to Nau to work with one of my long-time mentors, Mark Galbraith, spend time in my home state near my family, and be on the ground floor of building something new and fresh. It’s been exciting and rewarding to be a part of that creative process.
Do you describe yourself as a perfectionist?
Absolutely. I’m a bit OCD when it comes time to designing a collection, and I’d say most designers are like that. In any field, you typically have your introverts and your extroverts. I’d definitely categorize myself in the pool of introvertism. I’m that person who covers my bedroom walls with scotch tape. I love creating spaces for people. I think for fashion, it’s so easy to translate the work you do in your professional life and carry it over into your personal life. It’s a lifestyle, and I’ve always aimed for the idea of perfectionism. We’re living in such a digital age where it’s easy to get distracted by so many things and images and websites that I try and stay as focused as I can, and on what I know.
How does Nau integrate technology into its design process?
Our approach to integration is that we go through a day in the life of each garment and find the most elegant solution to meet each need that arises. We think about how a person actually uses a garment: Where will they wear it? What will they reach for? What elements come to them when they are doing an activity or simply commuting to work in the city? We look to simple systems and may choose to integrate details like the perfect phone pocket, reflective detail, or hidden zipper to keep things interesting.
Can you tell me more on your relationship with some global factories who you manufacture with?
Nau has maintained close and long-term relationships with our factories in China and India. We have people who will fly out to the factories and look at the proto-development of the collections. Factory sourcing is an extremely important topic and we take our role and reputation very seriously when it comes to choosing the right factory with the technical skills needed to produce our designs in the right way. The most effective tools a small company like Nau has when it comes to factories is to source from reputable well-audited factories and to develop a relationship built on trust over time. Jamie Bainbridge, who leads Nau’s sustainable product development, is one of the industry’s most well-respected advocates for social and environmental responsibility. She is one of the founding members and current chair of the Outdoor Industry Association’s Sustainability Working Group. She and her team personally visit our factories during the proto-development process. It is this type of personal connection that builds long lasting trust between Nau and the factories we choose to work with.
What do you see as being the biggest difference between U.S. manufactured and global manufactured clothing?
It’s not a matter of quality but of capability, mainly because U.S. factories are unwilling to go into all the extra detailing of the clothes. It’s more of a lack of technology and skill to produce those kinds of details. They will often produce a very basic garment. U.S. factories are very good at making certain sustainable fabrications such as organic cotton. This is why we see companies like American Apparel churning out high volumes of organic cotton products “Made in the USA.”
While these can certainly be considered high-quality fabrics, they are usually made with a very straightforward fabrication and construction. Nau makes highly-styled performance outerwear and sportswear made with complicated blends, patented sustainable materials and highly technical constructions that are currently beyond the technical capabilities of US factories. Our job is to create innovative, fashion-forward designs for the modern outdoor consumer and ensure that they are produced in the most sustainable manner possible given today’s technology. We do this by sourcing the most sustainable performance fabrics available and by identifying reputable factories that have the capability to manufacture the best product possible for our end consumer.
I heard you also have a line of men’s shirts that are made and sourced overseas.
Yes, our men’s and women’s woven shirts are made in India. The rest of our garments are made in China.
What can we expect from your fall/winter 2014 collection?
Well, one of the big trends I can tell you is that fleece is dead. It’s been dead for a while, and it’s being replaced by wool. Right now we have an amazing felted Merino wool coat with raw edges. It comes in a gorgeous green color, and the structure is amazing. We have the Randy jacket, and it’s a high polyester fleece on the inside and a comfortable Merino wool on the outside. I’m always thinking about the functionality of clothes, and how many people in Portland actually commute riding their bikes and so forth. So that continually remains a top priority for me as I design my next collection. Nau is all about sophistication so you will also be seeing neutral colors like Heather grays and caviar and a new version of black.
I once had a designer tell me that she thought the biggest mistake young designers make who want to be successful in fashion, is that they let their egos get in the way. Do you often see this as a hindrance?
Yes, definitely. The ability to collaborate and communicate your point of view without ostracizing people who may think differently from you will get you far. I’ve seen very talented designers become almost unemployable because of a difficult reputation while mediocre designers rise to the top because they were well-liked.
It seems like many people in the fashion industry come and go. What qualities do you think an individual needs in order to be successful in fashion or design?
Be very picky about where you accept an internship. Your first few jobs define your career and set your trajectory more than you think. Don’t be an asshole, don’t stay too long in a situation that doesn’t light you up and never burn your bridges. Be hungry and willing to learn and simply accept that people are crazy and life isn’t always fair.
What do you see your biggest role as a designer is?
Channeling. You have to take what everyone else wants, what’s selling, what you think is cool, plus your vision and combine it into a design that works and is beautiful. Understand that you will never make everyone happy.