What if all outdoor companies were as equally devoted to environmental cleanup as they are to the bottom line? On top of that: What if all of the products that they sold were created sustainably? In 2010, Brian Linton created that ideal: He founded United by Blue, a company that manufactures and sells durable, responsibly made goods—ones that stand the true test of time—while also organizing its own philanthropic initiatives, in house. Brian wanted to be a leader among companies that give back, designing a business that uses its power to have a hands-on, positive impact on oceans and waterways across the world. “It’s a physical manifestation: Through each product that we sell, we remove one pound of trash with hosted clean ups,” Brian said.
While Brian earned his Asian Studies degree at Temple University in Philadelphia, he ran a resort merchandizing business for two years, importing and selling stone necklaces. When he graduated in 2008, he continued to sell boutique jewelry with a portion of the proceeds going toward ocean conservation work. But, he soon realized the bottleneck in the business model. “I realized the limitations of financial donations for small business,” explained Brian. “Not only is it difficult to track the impact or see it, but it’s also difficult for the people who are donating to get involved because emotionally and spiritually they don’t necessarily see the results.” The pinnacle challenge for UBB is balancing its environmental aspirations—organizing volunteers and events requires loads of planning and resources—with sales revenue. But, by building environmental responsibility into the business model, the work that’s done is transparent for Brian, and for consumers. “It was a realization that in doing it on our own we can have an impact that is measurable and tangible. Instead of having an outward donation based model it’s an inward model. It’s also in alignment with my personality and what I wanted to be a part of: United by Blue is an outdoor lifestyle brand that embodies the nostalgic romance and love for the outdoors.” To date, UBB has hosted 116 cleanups and organized more than 4,000 volunteers to remove close to 200,000 pounds of trash across 21 states and Taiwan.
United by Blue has two retail-coffee shops in Philadelphia, which are designed to be community gathering spaces, where they sell their own brand products as well as third party goods.
The Ultimate American Sock now on Kickstarter
Most recently, UBB launched a Kickstarter campaign for the Ultimate American Sock: an American Bison sock that’s made in the USA and sources its fiber domestically as well. In 2012, UBB was selling a merino wool sock and Brian became curious about the developmental process, so he dove into the research. “I started looking at the whole process from fiber to sock. Many hosiery products are made in the US, but very few are made with US ingredients. I wanted to have ingredients that were so innately tied to the US—something that was undeniably American.” Brian decided to design a sock with Bison Down. The winter socks are meant for everyday use. They can be worn to work, but are durable enough for hikes.
Bison fiber is a short, soft fiber that’s warmer than wool and softer than cashmere, explained Brian. However, the fiber’s short length presents a challenge, so it needed to be blended with American merino wool in order to provide knittable yarn. I was able to try a pair and, before I could pull them on my feet, the first element that caught my attention was the sock packaging: The pair comes in an artistically designed box that’s made in Wisconsin. The detail-oriented aesthetics of the sock also took me by surprise—a zigzag heritage-style line is knit across the top and a buffalo figure is knit in the bottom. The above-ankle height and fibers are extremely warm and reminded me of the traditional thick wool socks that I wore as a kid—the perfect comfy house slipper or to pair with snow boots on a cold winter day.
However, the socks are a little too thick for narrower shoes such as casual boots for women. And, it appears I'm not the only one excited about these socks. As of press time, UBB's Kickstarter campaign has raised $118,000—well above its $15,000 goal. The campaign has only 50 hours left. “There’s nothing more ultimate within the US than the American Bison. They were almost hunted to extinction in 1890 and now it’s an American comeback story, because there are 500,000 living in North America that are neither endangered nor threatened,” Brian said. “It’s a tremendously underutilized fiber and it’s a beautiful fiber.”
***Editor's note: Garage Grown Gear's store does not (yet) sell United By Blue products; we're writing about this company because we love what they're doing!***