Brian Linton is the founder and chief trash collector of the sustainable apparel brand United By Blue, a for-profit company that removes one pound of trash from U.S. waterways for every product sold.
In the two years since founding UBB, Linton has received several accolades for his social-entrepreneurship strides from the nation's top news publications including Bloomberg Businessweek and The Wall Street Journal. This recognition came to a head in 2010 when the Philadelphia resident was named one of Pennsylvania's top Environmental Leaders.
Your core values and passion for the ocean and sealife seem deep seeded, what triggered this strong connection?
I grew up overseas, in Singapore. From there, I was fortunate to travel the world and go to a lot of different beaches and waterways. I loved all things aquatic, and had about 30 fish tanks in my room. I would study the life of fish, breeding them, raising them, as well as selling them. I also loved snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, any activity that involved water. These experiences put me in beautiful locations as well as places that were so littered with trash that you couldn't see the sand. I was fascinated with how different fish need different water conditions for a healthy life... So seeing trash and polluted oceans and rivers were especially discouraging for me. These experiences, coupled with a love for sales and branding led me to social entrepreneurship with a focus on protecting water.
There are a lot of entrepreneurs out there that are driven by self-centered ambitions, but your endeavors are primarily philanthropic. Who were some of the people that have had the strongest influence on your path in life?
I look up to people who put environmental and/or social accomplishments above personal gain and achievement. Many of these people set out to do great things for our world and end up gaining success and notoriety for what they have accomplished. It's these unique individuals that I look up to, such as the late Jaques Cousteau. He introduced the world to the wonders of the oceans, and his work and inspiration still lives on today in the form of every scuba diver and ocean lover.
How did United By Blue come to fruition?
UBB came about as a result of the toils and triumphs of a brand I started before UBB. I originally started my entrepreneurial endeavors in the form of a brand of resort jewelry that I sold to stores up and down the east coast during the summers between my years at college. It was focused on supporting ocean conservation through financial contributions... but this model did not accomplish anything concrete and meaningful, and I also wanted to start a brand that would create product that would be less regional and coastal themed. UBB was created to do something that was more concrete and tangible than giving money to non-profits. I wanted to create a company that had the systems and infrastructure to organize and host cleanups integrated into the company from the get-go, so that we could accomplish something that would have a measurable, positive impact on the environment, and scale the good work with the company as it grew. As a result, to date we've hosted nearly 100 beach/waterway cleanups and removed over 140,000 pounds of trash.
What are the greatest influences on your design? Do you leave that up to your team or are you the primary creative director?
My team is amazingly creative, and I can't take credit for many of our recent designs. Earlier on, the originally inspiration for our product was based on my love for the outdoors and the playground between the oceans and the mountains. As a teenager, I once traveled to the Fiordlands of New Zealand, where mountain cliffs converge with the oceans in such a dramatic fashion. It is the appreciation for places like this that inspired many designs.
What has been the biggest obstacle to overcome in establishing United By Blue?
Finding a balance between sustainable product and design has been a challenge. It is far too easy to start a brand with a sustainable initiative and get caught up creating designs that overplay the environmental aspect of what your brand's mission is. People don't want to buy products that have environmental messages blasted across the chest...and this is something we did initially with UBB designs. Fortunately, we realized early that this was not the way to grow a brand of apparel.
Everyone aspires to be successful, what drives you everyday?
There are 7 billion people on the planet and the world is at a point in history where if we don't start conserving the resources we have, our future is very grim. We use the equivalent of 1.5 Earths to provide the resources we use every year. I would love to be part of a movement that uses business to make a real and lasting positive impact on our planet.
Ultimately, what is your dream accomplishment?
As we grow our distribution, we grow the scope and scale of our cleanup work. My goal is to have UBB product, and associated UBB Cleanup Crews, all around the world.
What is the biggest tip you can offer to young up and coming entrepreneurs ?
Don't raise money if you don't have to. The effort to raise money is far better spent on growing your company. If you have to devote a sizable amount of time to raising capital or a sizable amount of time to selling a product, sell the product. Finance the product you sell through creative ways such as PO financing or factoring.
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