While many companies use merino wool for their outdoor apparel, several companies have taken it upon themselves to “own” certain fibers. United By Blue, for instance, is among the first to use bison fiber. We asked UBB founder and president Brian Linton “why bison fiber?” in the first part of our two-part interview, and his answers were interesting. In this second part of our Q&A, Linton talks a bit about the bison fiber sustainability attributes he’s most excited by, United By Blue’s possible future uses for the material, and the challenges that being dedicated to sustainability poses to expanding business.
United by Blue seems focused on ocean and waterway cleanup, yet bison are very much land-based. I imagine there’s a sustainability connection there, yes?
As a native species to North America, the bison is much healthier for the land than beef cattle or other types of livestock. They help promote healthy, native grass growth and are gentler on the land in general. Furthermore, bison are not fed antibiotics or growth hormone (unlike their bovine brethren who are raised on this). For these reasons and more, bison are naturally a sustainable choice whether or not you are choosing them for their meat or their fiber. But because bison are only commercially raised for meat, the fiber is a byproduct of this industry – and using a byproduct is also innately a very sustainable alternative as the fiber would otherwise go to waste.
United by Blue seems quite dedicated to sustainability throughout the life of your products. How, why and when did that dedication coalesce?
I started United By Blue to be a brand that brought more good to the world than it took from it. From its inception, UBB has been focused on environmental conservation and building sustainable, responsible, products.
Has that dedication proved more challenging to commercial success than you might have expected?
To be honest – probably yes. But as we have never known anything else, we have no complaints!
Most people hate being cold, but people with Raynaud’s syndrome actually find the cold painful even at temperatures others wouldn’t consider cold. Does your design team ever aim for specific segments like Raynaud’s sufferers, or does it take more of a “broad swath” approach to staying warm?
The bison fiber story is built around a story of warmth. Although we design for a “broad swath,” we have found our bison products resonate with those who find themselves perpetually cold. To be quite honest, this was not something we planned for or thought much about when designing these products – we were under the impression that we were making products that you would only wear when it was extremely cold outside, but it turns out that due to bison fibers temperature regulating properties, bison fiber products are comfortable to wear in a broad range of climates and temperatures.
People who suffer from Raynaud’s (as I do) often have very cold hands and feet. Your bison-fiber socks have been popular to the point that your inventory seems to regularly run low or out entirely. Have you heard from people that the socks are popular because of their warmth, or some other factor?
Yes definitely! And strangely we find these socks selling year-round. It has been a challenge projecting demand, because our demand has far outpaced our initial production runs.
Your Kickstarter campaign for the Ultimate American Jacket proved very successful. What do you think caused it to really take off?
Its success is based on a lot of different factors, but no factor is more significant that the innovation around using bison fiber (in the form of B100 fill) as an insulation. Similar to the socks, we have been shocked and humbled by the strong initial response to this product and look forward to further developing it.
In light of its insulation, is bison fiber most appropriate for cold-weather apparel, or are there spring- and summer-time uses for it as well?
We are currently exploring ways to use this fiber for viable spring/summer socks and apparel items. Stay tuned!
Special thanks to Brian Linton for taking the time to answer my questions, and to the greater United By Blue team for helping this interview come together.