Monday, May 12, 2008
The End of Nau
For those of you who didn't know, I was "blogmaster" for the outdoor clothing company Nau for the past two years. It was a job I really loved because I believed in the products Nau produced and their mission to change the apparel business by using more sustainable materials and donating 5% of their sales to social and environmental causes.
I heard about Nau almost a year before they opened their doors and interviewed for a job that would be both a copy editor and photo editor position. After several months, I realized that I didn't get the gig--that they actually hired two people fill those roles--but a few months later, when Nau decided they wanted a blog to be their first web presence, I interviewed again and was hired to "curate" the Thought Kitchen as a freelancer. I have Sissyfish to thank for that.
Despite the fact that I was asked to bill a rate that was almost half my normal editing/writing fee, it was an amazing two years of work. Nau's target audience was, in their words, "Artists, Athletes, and Activists" and it was with those loose parameters in mind that the blog content was created. As a surfer, I could write about my experiences in the outdoors; as an artist I could contribute illustrations and photography; as a person concerned about the environment, I could talk honestly about how I was trying to do my part to do less harm to the planet. I was never asked to pimp products on the blog or to overtly sell anything. That was the website's job. Blog posts contributed by employees that I edited came from the same honest perspective.
While I was in Mexico, I found out that Nau went bankrupt. It all happened in a matter of days and I couldn't wrap my mind around how a company that seemed so healthy and well-loved could disintegrate so quickly. Everyone I talked to at Nau (mostly within the creative department) seemed genuinely surprised and shocked by the closure. I was suspicious that somebody high up in the company was aware of financial troubles brewing but kept it a secret, because I hadn't received payment for a month's worth of invoices. And this was a company that had paid me promptly every week for almost two years.
Not long after, I was blindsided by the fact that Nau probably isn't going to pay me for that month of work. The company closed with just enough money to cover payroll and send their "real" employees packing. The liquidators took over, and from what three lawyers have told me, I should expect, "pennies on the dollar, if that."
Contractors and freelancers who had been working steadily--and under intense pressure, in some cases--were hung out to dry. I think there are about 20 people in my situation, and we're all going to be grouped in with Nau's other debtors which probably include huge vendors like Chinese factories and the Beverly Center, where Nau opened a store about two weeks ago. I wonder what the lease is on a store there? Millions? Our invoices are a drop in the bucket.
It sucks because the people who we worked for were our friends. It sucks because a company that claimed to be "sustainable" knowingly let a large group of their friends down. It sucks because somebody didn't have the foresight to tighten the belt a few notches when times got tough, resulting in a hara-kiri style ending to what could have been an enduring brand. It sucks because this brand was actually making a difference. It sucks because I have a family to support.
In the spirit of the company, one that held up TRANSPARENCY as one of its tenets, I would like to be able to know what really happened at Nau. If they spent $35 Million in 18 months, but still owed so much money that they couldn't pay their freelancers (people who were all asked to significantly chop their rates and work until the day the company closed), where did they go wrong? I think this information would benefit other companies with noble ambitions who don't want to suffer the same fate, or at the very least not harm the people who loved them.
OK. This rant is over and the bad puns are finished ....... Nau.