About three blocks from a Starbucks undergoing renovation on 3rd and Arch streets, United by Blue, a coffeehouse and clothing store, houses its grand opening celebration.
By 6:30 p.m., the event is so crowded that its guests are about to knock over trays of grilled cheese, mini soft pretzels and other low-key hors d’oeuvres.
As a band called Spirit and Dust gets ready to perform near the store’s dressing room, whose curtains are made from the same canvas as the bags the store sells, and coffee is served on a bar built from reclaimed wood found in other areas of Old City, United by Blue resembles an urban utopia.
United by Blue revolves around three things: conservation, clothes and coffee.
“[United by Blue] came about out of another brand, another company that I was running prior to this when I was at Temple, actually,” said Brian Linton, the founder of UBB and a Temple alumn from the class of 2008.
Linton majored in Asian studies at the College of Liberal Arts. Even though he wasn’t in the Fox School of Business, he got involved in its business plan competition and went on to win the grand prize in 2008.
Although proceeds from his original company were given to ocean conservation projects, he felt this wasn’t enough. Linton wanted to go further.
“I sort of re-shifted my priorities and focused on creating a brand that had tangible impact for every single business transaction,” Linton said.
For each item sold, United by Blue promises to remove one pound of trash from oceans or waterways.
The whole concept can provoke skepticism: how do customers know for sure their money is going to the right place? How exactly is this any different from his original company?
All the information is posted on its website, down to the exact amount of pounds collected from each location. United by Blue runs on volunteerism, Linton said.
So far, the company has removed 160,260 pounds of trash from a total of 98 cleanups that have spanned 22 states. UBB will have its 100th cleanup in October in Dallas.
Although the store just opened in Old City in August, United by Blue clothing has been sold since 2010 at other retailers such as Nordstrom, REI and Urban Outfitters.
“Our brand, the premise of it all along, was to sell to other stores,” Linton said. “Doing retail is actually brand new.”
With the first company-owned store in tow, Linton said he’s happy that it’s in Philadelphia.
“Philadelphia, for this type of company, is definitely a unique space,” Linton said. “Everything is in New York when it comes to this type of thing.”
Regardless, Linton is proud of what Old City has to offer.
“In terms of lifestyle, there’s nothing better,” he said of the location.
The crowded grand opening event had its fair share of 20-somethings sipping on the store’s coffee, gathered from ReAnimator, a locally owned and operated coffee roaster in Fishtown.
United by Blue is not willing to fish out infinite amounts of disposable cups. A somewhat passive-aggressive sign is posted, with the message: “Please return Klean Kanteens or you may purchase your cup for $8.”
The coffee component is another way United by Blue hopes to prove that its goal is not just about selling clothing.
Linton said he wants people to see the location as a coffeehouse as well.
“It’s about having a high-end, really high-quality, organic coffee bar that people that don’t even care about our apparel can come in and enjoy,” Linton said.
United by Blue’s main focuses is on nature, despite its urban environment.
“We’re all united by water,” Linton said. “At the end of the day, the bird, the fish and the mosquito, and the moose, and you and me, we all need water to live.”
Kerri Ann Raimo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.