United by Blue: Apparel with a social mission - and coffee

Posted: September 13, 2013

 BRIAN LINTON, 26, of Washington Square, is founder and president of United by Blue, an apparel company that designs, manufactures and sells men's and women's knit tees, messenger bags, jewelry and accessories. Linton, a Temple grad, is also a social entrepreneur. For every product United by Blue sells, it vows to remove a pound of trash from the world's oceans and waterways. United by Blue recently opened its flagship "cafe-and-clothier" store in Old City.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for United by Blue?

A: It was born out of a jewelry line I was previously selling to boutiques and coastal stores, but I didn't have any passion for it. So [United by Blue] came about because I wanted to make something I could see myself wearing and also do something that would have a tangible social impact.

Q: Tell me about the social component.

A: We don't make donations; we get our own hands dirty and go out and pick up trash. We organize volunteers to go out - we had 30 to 40 volunteers at FDR Park [in South Philadelphia] on a recent weekend - and picked up 457 pounds of trash.

Q: How are cleanups arranged?

A: We have two full-time staff in our cleanup department. They do logistics with supplies and waste management and outreach to towns. They also recruit volunteers and work with our network of stores. We clean up where there's a need and we link a retailer or partner to it.

Q: How many cleanups?

A: We've done 100 in 22 U.S. states, removing 158,000 pounds of trash with 3,000 volunteers.

Q: How's the apparel side of the business work?

A: The bulk of it is wholesale. We sell to REI, Urban Outfitters and similar stores. There are 300 stores that carry our line. Wholesale is the best way to get mass distribution and it represents 90 to 95 percent of our business. I want to expand retail more.

Q: What's the rationale for the cafe-and-clothier store?

A: I felt a clothing store by itself was not as exciting or engaging as a coffee house. People can come in, have a cup of coffee, feel completely comfortable and learn about the brand.

Q: Where are clothes made?

A: The clothes are made in India, Nepal and Philadelphia.

Q: Who's the typical customer?

A: The person we appeal to is 25 to 35, somebody that typically lives in an urban setting but loves the outdoors. They care about the environment and support companies with social missions.

Q: What's been the biggest challenge growing the biz?

A: It's the production of enough and the right type of product to get to customers when they need it. On a more personal side, the challenge has been creating a brand with a social purpose and communicating the message of what United by Blue is.

Q: How big a business is this?

A: We have 10 full-time people, and we're over $1 million in sales.

On Twitter: @MHinkelman

Online: ph.ly/YourBusiness

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