Brian Linton, 24, was recently named to Bloomberg Businessweek’s list of “America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs.” A lifelong lover of water, Linton decided that creating a business was the best way to have a real impact on cleaning the oceans in a globalized way. Linton grew up in Singapore and created United by Blue in 2010, a clothing and accessories brand that pledges to cleanup one pound of trash from the ocean for every product they sell. United by Blue apparel and accessories are available in more than 350 retailers around the United States, including Whole Foods and Urban Outfitters.
1. What inspired you to create United by Blue?
I never really thought much about it until I got to college and I started thinking about what type of thing I wanted to do with my life. Do I want to go into marine conservation? Do I want to go into ocean marine biology, live on a boat and study the ocean and pursue grants and funding to make that happen? Or do I want to make a lot of money and use that as a means to create real, massive change for the oceans, rivers and streams?
The concept behind the name United by Blue is that we’re all united by water. That means that the water that passes through the straits of Johor Bahru is ultimately connected to the water passing through Philadelphia. So there’s no sense of thinking in localized environmental efforts when we can think of the world as a whole – as one big, intertwined eco-system that we need to protect.
2. How has being a TCK prepared you for the work you’re doing now?
I’m doing what I’m doing because of my upbringing and my understanding of the world as a big picture. When it comes to business and environmental conservation, [many people] think in localized ways. But with a TCK background, what I’ve always had is a globalized mindset to both business and environmental conservation.
I think that because I grew up overseas, not thinking of my home as a central location but as a global world has really allowed me to branch out much sooner than what a company normally would do. Not being scared of going off and expanding business in Asia. Japan is going to make up about half of our stores.
3. You were chosen as a finalist for America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs by Bloomberg Businessweek. How has your age helped or hindered the work that you do?
I think 24 is not that young anymore. Sometimes people do bring up the fact that, “Oh, wow you’re so young and doing this.” To them, it’s a surprise. But to me, it’s just a regularity of life. Maybe it does have innate advantages because it does make more of a story. I think that the American media loves the idea of young and successful, and I think that is something that can be leveraged to the benefit of the company.
4. What has been the best moment of starting your own company?
Our business, United by Blue, has associated every single business transaction with a concrete environmental action. By associating every transaction with removing pound of trash from the oceans and waterways, we’re able to create a closed loop between the environmental side and the for-profit side.
One of the most exciting things that happens is when an individual customer is involved in that closed loop. A customer that purchased a shirt at the store or online, and then they end up volunteering for a United by Blue cleanup. They’re really into the mission, they’re wearing their stuff, they talk about it on Facebook, and they become a repeat customer, and repeat volunteer and repeat advocate.
5. How do the cleanups work?
We do cleanups almost every week. The cleanups are all company organized and hosted. Our retailers benefit from a co-hosting a cleanup because it’s basically the store’s name and United by Blue clean-up. We’re going to do all of the work, logistics, planning, waste management, supplies, volunteer management, prizes – you simply help by putting up some posters, putting some flyers in bags, and getting volunteers from your network.
There’s also an innate marketing relationship because now we’re working with the store on a deeper level than we would by just by selling products to them. We’re now selling more products as a result and we’re creating strong relationships with the owners. We’ve got [cleanups] in almost 20 U.S. states now.
6. What other areas in business or conservation would you like to explore in the future?
I think we can grow United by Blue into an organization that is selling many, many different product offerings that have to do with consumer goods and lifestyle. We want to be largest organization that is removing trash from the environment in the world. We want to be a beacon of education that can be used by schools to educate people about the harm of ocean trash. Hopefully in the long run we can help reduce the amount of trash that gets dumped into the ocean.