United By Blue is saving America’s waterways one shirt at a time.

True Blue

Story Jenny Willden
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The urban center of Philadelphia may seem an unlikely home base for a powerhouse outdoor brand, but you wouldn’t know it from the success of United By Blue, an Philadelphia based clothier and coffee connoisseur. For more than nine years, UBB’s been bringing sustainably built goods to the city while driving positive change in an industry hardly known as environmentally friendly.

United By Blue’s name comes from its founder’s belief that we are united by the blue of the world’s waterways and share the responsibility of protecting them. And the company takes this responsibility seriously, committing to cleaning and protecting our planet with each and every sale.

Protecting Our Planet

Disturbing statistic: every day, 38,356,164 pounds of trash are dumped into our oceans. For every item you buy, United By Blue is fighting this tide, putting sweat behind its pledge by committing to remove a pound of trash from oceans and waterways for every product sold. Believing ocean waste is one of the most pressing current environmental issues, UBB is focused on confronting ocean and river trash—and tackling it head on.

To date, the company has removed 2.1 million pounds of trash from rivers and streams across the country. And UBB doesn’t farm out this task, instead hosting cleanups where team members and locals roll up their sleeves to pick up trash in rivers, oceans, and streams. It organized its first community cleanup the same week it sold its first T-shirt, and the brand has since taken the show on the road with cleanups around the United States.

These cleanup tours travel across America, stopping in cities such as Boulder and San Francisco as well as hometown river cleanings in Philadelphia. When it came through Denver last year, the crew removed 1,607 pounds of trash. Local cleanups give you a chance to give back to your Philly community. Inspired to clean a nearby waterway? Buy UBB’s $5 DIY cleanup kit, which includes gloves, garbage bags, and a guide to making a difference on your own.

Photos Courtesy of United by Blue

Shopping Sustainably

United By Blue is a certified B-corp and innovator of perennial favorites; all its apparel and accessories are responsibly sourced and sustainably constructed with materials such as organic cotton, recycled polyester, and American bison fiber.

Its products are now found at 1,000 retail locations, online at unitedbyblue.com, and at its new(ish) Philadelphia flagship retail store, which blends outdoor clothing, gear, and accessory sales with a café featuring fresh food, fair trade coffee, and seating for 50.

The UBB flagship shop carries everything from cozy socks and jackets insulated with discarded bison fur to responsibly sourced, sustainably built flannel shirt—and know your dollars also help keep the Schuylkill River clean.

Located on bustling Race Street, the flagship is (unsurprisingly) sustainably constructed and is one of Philadelphia’s first LEED-certified retail stores. Built with salvaged wood from an old Maryland barn and chalkboards from Philadelphia schools, every bit of the store tells a story. The shop also hosts social First Friday events and sells footwear and gear from numerous outdoor brands. A smaller, coffee-oriented location is located on Walnut Street in University City. The brand also hosts pop-up shops in other US cities.

Building Truly Responsible Gear

Despite being a brand that makes its money selling apparel and gear, United By Blue wants you to buy less. Its clothing is designed with timeless styles that are built to last, and it strives to make you a conscious consumer by offering reusable coffee cups, cutlery sets, and to-go meal kits to reduce the amount of trash you create.

And while using recycled fibers in apparel production is nothing new, UBB is ushering in a new era of sustainability by putting typically discarded fibers to work. American bison fiber is a rarely used by-product of the ranching industry, but UBB spent six years building a supply chain for the fiber—sparing it from the landfill and harnessing it as a natural insulation the company calls BisonShield.

UBB founder Brian Linton says embracing bison for a cold-weather insulation was a natural choice: “Bison don’t migrate south for the winter.” Like wool, bison fiber is cool in the summer and warm in the winter—thanks to its temperature-regulating powers—and it can keep humans warm down to 0°F.

The cleaned bison fiber is blended with wool into BisonShield, a fill that rivals competing duck down and synthetic insulations. Try it in the new Bison Ultralight Jacket, a down alternative that’s hypoallergenic, naturally lightweight, and after much refinement, packable.

Beyond bison, UBB is greening other popular gear categories like backpacks and flannels. Its Responsible Flannel is constructed from organic, chemical-free cotton with biodegradable Corozu buttons made from nuts and nontoxic dyes. Bonus: It’s softer than other flannels and softens more with every wash.

UBB also repurposes single-use plastic into bags, backpacks, and pet accessories with its (R)evolution Collection. From convertible totes to weekenders to toiletry-stashing Dopp kits, each bag is water-and stain-resistant with vegetable-tanned leather, and all are guaranteed for life. If a strap tears or the bag breaks, send it back, and UBB will repair the damage.

Photos Courtesy of United by Blue

Big on Benefits

United By Blue’s management team is also headquartered in
Old City, with its offices located just down the road from its flagship shop in its original coffeehouse location.

As a company, UBB’s guiding principles go beyond gear and trickle down to employees too. UBB believes in promoting greatness in employees and helping them thrive, not promoting outdated corporate structure. With a laid-back dress code and dog-friendly offices, UBB promotes productivity, not strict rules. Vacation is unlimited (yes, you heard that right), and every employee (full-time or hourly) receives product discounts, full medical coverage, paid family leave, and a 401K savings plan—all perks designed to keep employees healthy and happy.

United By Blue has quickly made a name for itself in the outdoor gear world, building the company with the belief that successful brands can do serious conservation work.

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