Written By: Gillian McGoldrick
Photos by: Margo Reed
It is rare to find a compost bin in a clothing store. But this is the case in Philadelphia’s own United by Blue hybrid clothier-coffee shops.
United by Blue, a fashion company founded by 2008 Temple alum and Asian Studies major Brian Linton, has two retail locations that can be found in Philadelphia: One in Old City and one in University City on Walnut St . Each of these locations sell more than just clothes—they also are equipped with a coffee shop.
The company’s mission is to mitigate waste around Philly and the world through their sales. The “blue” in the name is for the ocean, so for every product that United by Blue sells, one pound of trash will be removed from oceans and other waterways through company-organized cleanups. This is also tallied alongside their brand recognition and sales all over the world, with over 300 international outlets.
“Initially, the online business was doing really well and Brian wanted to have a retail location where you could actually have a face to the company… and how can we begin to change the social paradigm around business and conscious consumerism,” Miles Butler, the manager of the Old City location and overseer of the Walnut Street location, said. “…By adding the coffee side of things, it becomes a community space even if someone is just coming in for coffee every day.”
Reanimator coffee, United by Blue’s main caffeine supplier, is a Philadelphia-based, fair trade and organic product. This is tied in with the United by Blue’s goal to meet their eco-friendly demands. In addition, all cups and to-go containers are compostable. “
“When I first started working here I thought that there was gonna be a lot of ruined goods—but it rarely happens,” Butler said.
Butler said he would be unsurprised if the idea of having the dual-concept stores became a mainstream idea. “Coffee is a very lucrative business and then having the option of having your customer able to buy [goods] I think makes a lot of sense,” he said.
United By Blue isn’t the only fashion company to incorporate coffee into the shopper’s experience. The Toms shoes store in New York City has the same hybrid design of shop and cafe.
“I think that the truth is that a lot of people drink coffee and, especially in Philadelphia, we’ve seen a sort of evolution from Starbucks to Dunkin Donuts branch out into all these craft coffee shops … like what we’re doing here,” Butler said. He also believes that coffee is the new fashion accessory, as so many Philadelphians branch out their coffee palates.
Both of the locations in Old City and University City are the hybrid-type store, but Butler just describes the University City store to be a bit “lighter” inside. The University city also has a lot more college students that pop in for the coffee, while the Old City store has more retail sales.
Other than the owners both being coffee-fiends, having coffee in hand can be seen as the new fashion accessory to both Butler and University of Pennsylvania sophomore, Hannah Ceisler. “I think that coffee is associated with being thin and doing things,” she said.
Whether all stores become equipped with coffee shops or mission statements, it is clear that coffee can be found in the hands of many well-dressed and fashionable Philadelphians today. “To be hyped up on coffee is very sexy,” Ceisler said. Coffee became a commodity in the nineties, but the 21st-century young adult is bringing it back stronger than ever. Cold brew enthusiasts and pumpkin spice lovers alike can see their tastes come alive in stores as chic as United by Blue.
United by Blue will continue to serve their coffee to hype up college students right off of Penn’s campus, but their main message will be what keeps them alive. “It’s the idea of consumer driven philanthropy which I think is how company like Toms Shoes exists and how we are existing and continuing to grow,” Butler said. “People enjoy giving back even if it’s during their busy lives where they can’t actually come to a cleanup they can still help the company by letting us clean up.”