Mirror, Mirror: United by Blue rolls into Old City

Brian Linton, in his new shop, started United by Blue in 2010 to connect his creative, business, and environmental sides.
Brian Linton, in his new shop, started United by Blue in 2010 to connect his creative, business, and environmental sides. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)

The line of clothes and gear dedicated to healthy oceans gets a shop of its own.

Posted: September 05, 2013

For three years, United by Blue's organic T's, waxed-canvas messenger bags, and stainless steel cups were available only at rugged sporting-goods stores like REI.

That's all water under the bridge.

The company's wave-inspired gear quietly crashed into Old City's SoHo-like scene Friday with the opening of its 1,500-square-foot clothing boutique/coffeehouse.

But don't think its ocean-friendly vibe doesn't have a serious side: For every waffle-knit fisherman's sweater, button-down chambray shirt, or pound of coffee that's sold, volunteers remove a pound of garbage from the world's oceans and rivers. And with the state of today's major waterways - strewn with garbage, polluted with oil and radioactive spills - our bluest natural resource needs all the cleanup it can get.

"The oceans are great connectors of all life and all cultures," said owner Brian Linton, 26, a fashion entrepreneur driven more by his love of marine life than by Manolos. "They are 71 percent of the planet, and they are the most neglected part."

Linton, who was born in Vermont , moved to Japan when he was a year old, a result of his father's job with IBM. When Linton was in elementary school, the family moved to Singapore, where he developed a love for scuba diving and other water sports. He spent summers on Cape Cod visiting his grandparents.

After graduating from Temple University with a degree in Asian studies in 2008, he spent some time traveling Northeast beach communities selling jewelry he imported from overseas.

He started United by Blue in 2010 because he wanted to connect his creative side with his "business and environmental side."

Despite mentions in GQ, Details, Glamour, and Marie Claire magazines, United by Blue is definitely more functional than cutting-edge, Linton said. The brand's aesthetic, however, is for consumers younger than 35, and Linton has gotten his products into 300 stores nationwide, from Trail Creek Outfitters in Glen Mills to Urban Outfitters in Center City.

The line includes 12 T-shirt designs on henleys, crewnecks, and pocket T's fashioned from soft-as-silk organic slub. Some of the images are abstract, like the series of thick, squiggly lines interpreted as waves, the company's logo. Other designs are more direct, like "Save Our Seas." These T-shirts start at $34. Next month, United by Blue will introduce $198 cashmere sweaters and $158 cardigans.

Linton also sells 18 kinds of bags, from iPhone holders to computer carriers, fashioned from waterproof canvas to protect the electronics inside. In addition, Linton sells jewelry.

United by Blue's business model is familiar, another version of the philanthropy trend that is helping style-focused start-ups find success. One of the most successful is Warby Parker, the eyeglass company founded by four Wharton graduates.

But instead of the you-buy-something-they-donate-something model, Linton uses the revenue from his company - this year he's on target to make $2 million - to help the ocean at large.

So far, Linton said, United by Blue has removed 156,000 pounds of garbage from waterways in 20 states and Taiwan, and on Tuesday, the company was hosting a cleanup of FDR Park's Edgewood and Meadow Lakes.

With such dedication to eco-friendliness, you would think Linton would do the bulk of his manufacturing in America. After all, that's a pretty good way to reduce the carbon footprint.

He doesn't - yet. Instead, the Philly resident utilizes his connections overseas and sends his designs via the Web to Asia, where his T-shirts and most of his store's other items are manufactured.

"At the end of the day, there is more to environmental impact than where you make a product," Linton said.

But he's looking to change. Already the brand's denim button-down is being made at a facility in Chinatown.

"U.S. manufacturing is a huge focus for us right now," Linton said. "We aren't going into it hastily and jeopardize the environment just to put a 'Made in the USA' label on it."

Certainly the details of the Old City store were fashioned with the environment in mind.

The organic coffee is roasted by Fishtown-based ReAnimator Coffee Roasters. And Linton, along with business partner Michael Cangi, built the 25-foot-long coffee bar from reclaimed wood: The top of the bar (as well as other furniture in the store) came from the now-defunct Samuel Machinery Co. building, also in Old City. The sides of the bar were salvaged from a demolished church at Ninth and Callowhill Streets.

"We are all connected by blue," Linton said.


United by Blue is at 144 N. Second St., 215-642-0694, www.unitedbyblue.com.

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter, @ewellingtonphl.

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