As part of Nau’s new monthly interview series, we interview the people whose bold visions and rebellious spirits have directly inspired our own. Some of those people inspire us from afar, but Courtney Samulik, who joined the Nau family two years ago, inspires us daily and directly from within the Nau family. Courtney is the visionary behind the development and refinement of all Nau’s fabrics. Our eye toward what’s next in sustainable textiles starts with her. Here, Courtney clues us in about what is next, about the seeming contradictions regarding sustainability in the textile industry, and also about how those contradictions can be a key to creating unexpectedly great design.
As always, each interview warms up with five fast questions we’re calling the Fast Five. Here we go.
What do you miss right now?
My baby, Cam. He’s our first baby (4 months old) and he’s starting daycare tomorrow. It’s a weird feeling of excitement about being back at work doing what I’m passionate about, but also missing him. I feel really lucky that Nau supports new mothers and has given me some flexibility to spend so much time with him in these first couple of months. It’s absolutely crazy to me that there is no federal policy on extended paid leave for mothers and fathers!
Courtney and husband Kevin’s baby Cameron was born this past May.
What’s one thing you’d never forget to bring on a trip?
A raincoat. Portland is rubbing off on me.
What are the three most beautiful words in the world to you?
Ebb, crisp, embrace.
What are you currently listening to or reading?
The Carter V – (the wait is over :P)
What does being sustainable mean for you?
Being thoughtful about how I’m living my life – what I’m purchasing, what I’m doing – and how that affects my own health and happiness, the people around me, and the world as a whole.
Good work! You can think on your feet. Let’s slow it down a little and take our time with a few more questions.
So, you’re a materials manager. What does that mean, exactly, and why do you do it?
It means I handle all aspects of fabric, from coming up with new ideas, following them through the color-development process, and then moving into production. I originally wanted to be a designer, and to go into more of a graphic arts field. But then I stumbled my way into textile design, and it was just the perfect combination of hard science and creativity that really kept me interested. I like the endless possibilities: I think that there’s always something new to discover and new ideas to try to incorporate. Textiles have been around as long as people have worn clothing, but even though it’s such an ancient art form, there’s always something new to develop.
Why do you do what you do at Nau?
I heard about Nau when I was working for Patagonia. There, I had been working on a much larger team with about 25 people, all working on materials. It sometimes felt like this giant slow-moving path. I really had just such an amazing exposure to sustainability there, and it became clear to me that if I was going to find a new job, I really wanted to work for a company that truly valued sustainability. Especially in the apparel sector where fast fashion is just…how can I even describe it? The amount of consumption is overwhelming. Morally, I couldn’t work for a brand that wasn’t at least taking into consideration the sourcing of their materials and what they’re made of.
Also, at Nau, I really like the amount of collaboration and the speed to enact an idea. We’re a very small product team, and because we sit in one single room and work so closely together, we’re able to really react to whatever comes across our path—be that a need for a new product or feedback from customers. It’s just a very collaborative and quick environment.
Do you work sustainability into your own life?
Yes! I bike commute to work. I actually didn’t have a car from when I moved here until just recently. It’s the first time I’ve driven in about six months, and I think my driving skills have plummeted!
Living in Portland, it’s definitely influenced me to be thoughtful about what I’m purchasing. I look for quality in a way that’s sustainable in and of itself. It’s just better to buy things that last a long time.
What would you like to accomplish while you’re here at Nau?
Recycled materials have always been something I’ve focused on. We just brought on the Renewal Workshop as an end-of-life partner to help us understand the end-of-life of our products, and how we can either repair them or upcycle or recycle them into new products. If you can use a material that’s already existing rather than use virgin resources, that’s really exciting, and something that I want to incorporate into Nau’s fabric development.
What do you like to do when you’re not at Nau?
My husband and I are kind of nerds—we’re actually video game people. That’s so not outdoorsy, but we do get outdoors a lot, too. I’ve always grown up by the beach, so that’s my favorite place to be.
Courtney with husband Kevin on a trip to Oregon’s Painted Hills.
Do you see gaming as totally different than the outdoor things you enjoy, or do they fit together somehow?
They’re like the complete opposite sides of the spectrum. But I think that you can be a person who loves the outdoors, even if not all your behaviors or all of your day-to-day life experiences really reflect that love. That kind of mirrors the idea behind the clothes we make: they look really really nice, but you can also go camping in them. I think it’s nice to have that duality.
What’s your favorite Nau piece?
I really like the Men’s Introvert Jacket. I’m a huge fabric nerd— I’m one of those people who walks up to people and asks them to touch their clothes. But the Introvert—I think that the fabric’s just super premium. I love that it’s a waterproof jacket that has this great casual vibe to it. You can get that performance and still look really great and nice going out. And it’s not something you expect to be a waterproof jacket.
Long-time designer at Nau, Peter Kallen, had this great line in his interview about Nau’ design. He called it the aesthetic of being “intentionally vague and purposefully inconclusive.” It sounds like you both enjoy it when you can’t pigeon hole things.
Yeah. You want something that’s a little bit of a surprise in a garment. I want to touch it and it have a different feeling or it have a different performance aspect than what I would expect by looking at it. That’s kind of a sweet spot for Nau: unexpected luxury materials in a performance garment.