As one of the original members of our founding team, Mark Galbraith has led design at Nau for over ten years. We sat down with him to learn how he got started, where he finds inspiration, and why it’s important to have a margarita for lunch every now and then.
Nau: Hi Mark. So, we’re doing a profile of you.
Mark: That’s terrifying.
Nau: Yeah, It’s really up to you if you want this to be PG, or PG-13, or R…
Mark: Probably NC-17! [Laughs] I mean, things should be authentic, which is at least PG-13.
So tell us what you do at Nau.
Right now, I’m acting as the GM, but that’s not really an accurate title. More than anything, I sit over in the creative side of things looking at product and brand and sustainability. Where art and sustainability and product come together, that’s what I’m interested in.
How did you get into design?
One, from my academic background, which was all anthropology, archeology, and mideast studies. I was always fascinated in what people made, how they lived, what their art and architecture was about, and what their social structures were about, and how they survived in a given area.
And then I think the other thing was really growing up along the Wasatch front in Utah. I grew up with this amazing playground that had pretty much every activity you wanted to do, from mountains to desert to big desert rivers and something as weird as the Great Salt Lake. So it was a pretty interesting geography that really spurred tons of activity.
Where those two things met was fooling around with my own sewing and messing around making gear. When I grew up, you didn’t call a plumber, you didn’t call an architect, you just fixed stuff, made stuff. We had welding and shop equipment around so I could fool around with hardgoods. I was in a make, invent, figure stuff out sort of mode.
From there I just fell into making a pretty wild leap. At the peak of me making stuff for friends, this old-school Utah sporting goods chain was bought out, and they had a little sewing factory. I was buying some industrial sewing machines and leftover fabrics, and one day I walked in and they were like, ‘we want to unload this whole thing. Instead of buying piecemeal machines, if you just want to buy the whole thing and assume one more year of the lease of this old building, you could.” And I was like, Jesus, that’s crazy.
I ended up going from just fooling around in my garage to essentially owning a super small little factory in one kinda stupid leap. Cutting table, pneumatic snap setter, down blower, a seam sealing machine, you name it. Like, overnight you have like Santa’s workshop! So that’s how I kind of jumped into things.
So it’s been 10 years at Nau?
Yeah, it’s been a flash. I was here just two years before we sold our first product. A single season normally has an 18-month development calendar, and it was like—here’s 24 months to go from zero to everything. To go from no concept, no name, no product line, no visual language, nothing, just an idea of functionality and sustainability and go for it. That was one of the most fun, creative projects ever to work on. It was a blast.
How would you describe your own personal style?
I would say it’s pretty minimal, functional, sort of industrial. I think taking classic heritage stuff and giving it a little bit of a cleaner, timeless modern style is what I like. So whether it’s classic selvedge denim, or an old classic Land Rover Defender, I like the simple, kind of industrial sensibility with clean lines and functionality that still looks relevant and interesting now. Hitting that sweet spot is what I like aesthetically.
Do you still have a Defender?
Yeah, I do. It’s kind of egregious, but I think for anyone who leads a real active outdoor lifestyle, it’s an effective tool. It’s just a no-electronics, old-school TDI motor with just one wire to it, no computers, just sort of tractor-level simplicity. It’s really modular and simple and easy to repair, clean classic military/industrial lines, and an easy shell to modify as a little camping rig. It’s a super compact minimalist living footprint that’s good for a weekend—or years on the road if you wanted. All bumper to bumper size smaller than a Volvo or Subaru station wagon.
So yeah, that describes an aesthetic. A car is an interesting example, like denim and classic boots and stuff that’s more handmade—I’m less about monocoque construction, glued everything, whatever. I think a lot of the best methods have proved themselves out over time, and it’s better to just improve the materials and refine the design.
Does that play into the apparel design philosophy that you’ve brought to Nau?
I think so. But more important was the really collaborative studio environment. The collective is much smarter than the individual. I think Nau has never been a brand about a person or the personality of one person. It was more about an idea and a creative studio that could bring those things to life.
What’s your favorite Nau piece?
I probably don’t have a singular favorite Nau piece. Some of my favorites are our simple wool layering pieces like the Randygoat Hoody: every time I go somewhere, it’s always in my kit. I think I’ve always got one of our little stretch waterproof 3-layer waterproof pieces, like the Cranky Jacket or something in that zone. And all the little down sweaters and shirts we’ve made: I really like the Down Shirt detail where we don’t have a stiff zipper, we’ve got snaps, so you can do one or two or really vent or roll up a cuff. All those little pieces are always super useful, and they don’t look like standard outdoor uniforms.
Where do you find inspiration?
Just observing, everywhere. Being connected, and taking the time to observe, enjoy, talk, go have a margarita for lunch. Your inspiration comes from living life, fully, and paying attention. I think the downside of the modern hyper saturation we’re under is you’re expected to consume six billion megabytes of shit, and I think ultimately it’s an overload. I think actually being able to unplug a bit and pay attention to urban life and outdoor life and music and art – it’s more of an attitude and an approach that inspires me.
So does good design come from inspiration or is it something else?
To me, the interpretation of it is paying attention and understanding what’s happening. The discipline of it is having core principles. For us, the single biggest inspiring reason Nau started, and what ultimately guides everything we do, is the whole ‘unfuck the world’ original idea. Not just using design to make something beautiful, or something functional, or something that makes someone look great or perform well—I think that’s a given, you have to do that. For us, doing it in a way that can create positive lasting change, that can show how to do it with sustainability and social good and low impact, that’s ultimately the inspiration that everything has to be filtered through.
Do you still think design can change the world?
It has to. Design has put us where we are. So if bad design had a negative impact, then flipping that around to good design could engineer us out of many of the problems. Energy issues, pollution, waste: they’re all design problems. So I believe good design can solve anything. In that sense, I’m pretty optimistic.