United By Blue was started by Brian Linton out of a passion to help clean up and call attention to the dire condition of the oceans and rivers as a result of human activity, apathy and lack of knowledge. It wasn't until more recently that Linton made an even deeper connection concerning his diet. He went vegan. "The fear of change was unjustified," he explained during our conversation. "When I see steak or something that would have been a source of comfort, I don't miss it. You only miss something if you want it. And I don't want it."
The Philadelphia-based entrepreneur is part of a growing population of young professionals who want to do so much more than punch in and out of meaningless office work. Inheriting a planet that has been scarred by generations who've seen it as nothing more than a stockpile of resources to be used up can be polarizing and motivating. Doing clean-ups and calling attention to issues like shark-finning, coral reefs, and organic cotton are at the core of UBB. And while the line itself still has some leather, the importance of heading towards completely vegan fashion is becoming paramount. Leather-tanning is one of the leading causes of water pollution, not to mention the staggering effects of livestock on GHG emissions, and resource consumption.
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"With the company that I run, it's very environmentally focused," Linton said. "We're getting so much attention and I was looking at myself and my company more critically, trying to see if I was satisfied. We're taking a significant amount of trash out of the oceans, but then I felt it was time to take on personal challenges to be more responsible. Also, my father recently recovered from cancer, and his diet had been my typical diet. So looking at causes of cancer, diet is one of them. The perfect storm was created."
When I asked about any difficulties during his evolution to veganism, he paused thoughtfully and then went on, "The fear of change was unjustified... The people that I associate with in my generation in Philadelphia are much more inclined to accept it and support it. However, if I go to a typical restaurant there seems to be this reaction from people that, I don't know - it's an initial poking, patronizing, they think you're missing out on meat so they wax poetic about what meats they love and how they want to go eat a burger. It's hard to convince someone that I am not actually missing out on anything. I went out to eat with my grandparents, and I didn't even want to bring it up. They really, really wanted me to get the steak because they were treating. I got the vegetable plate and they were just perplexed. My father-in-law went crazy when he found out, and he wanted to talk serious with my wife about my diet. He's worried that our kids are going to be ill. There's definitely this generational problem."
The bright side is that, like may skeptics of veganism who actually give it a try, the positive results are often overwhelming. "I've always had a bad knee, and I was a habitual nail biter, but for some reason, those things have just stopped. I'm not sure if it's associated with the vegan diet, but the changes in habit are probably related. I've also always had a bad back, and even that feels less painful than it used to. I'm enjoying clarity of thought and it's improved my work."
"I thought it was going to be difficult, but it's been so enjoyable I just stopped lamenting. When you really start embracing it, you don't miss anything, and you find things you'd have never tried. I went to brunch over the weekend to a farm fresh place - I usually would have gotten steak and eggs, but I got scrambled tofu and vegan chorizo tacos, and it's really quite exciting. Philly has such a good vegan food scene."
United By Blue continues to grow and do incredible work. The line is carried at over 200 stores including all of Nordstrom's 43 stores, at UrbanOutfitters.com, and at over 50 Japanese retailers. Collaborations with Method Soap, who recycle the collected plastics into soap bottles, and larger fashion brands like Sperry Topsider keep things relevant and moving towards a larger impact on affecting change.