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“A Case for Appalachia” by SustainU CEO, Chris Yura

A West Virginian Son’s Journey
As an Appalachian native, it is hard to articulate the sense of pride and protectiveness I have toward my state.

Inspiration comes to each of us differently. The soothing and addictive attributes of West Virginia have always provided an unending well of creative and spiritual nourishment. They also produced a longing in me that has called me from afar saying, “Come home.”

Initially, I left my home state for college and career opportunities, but my goal was always to come back. After a decade away, I received some entrepreneurial inspiration and decided it was time to make my way back home and start a small business.

In 2008, pitching an apparel company that would use USA Manufacturing and Recycled Textile Technology was not an easy idea. But thanks to my family and close family friends, encouragement triumphed over my trepidation and I eventually moved back home. Quite literally, I was living in Manhattan before my move back to WV. As a struggling entrepreneur, my parents’ house is all I could afford. I praise God for my amazing family and their incredible generosity and encouragement. And, as it turned out, the idea wasn’t as farfetched or out of reach as it seemed.

Fast forward seven years to today, and SustainU just launched its first line with Major League Baseball to provide millennial-focused apparel made in a unique and sustainable way. This concept (and now company) has retained and created jobs in traditional industries in both the South and Appalachia. I want to share this vision because I believe there are incredible opportunities for employment and community reinvestment in Appalachia.

Unapologetically Appalachian
I am often asked, “Why did you go back?” or “Why do you stay?” Misconceptions about Appalachia are as old as the region. National stereotypes of Appalachian people seem to have unfortunately been deemed socially acceptable, even with the rise of political correctness.

Stereotypes have forced Appalachians to stick together, creating communities that are incredibly tight-knit, loyal and selfless. But, this stigma has also given many West Virginians a false, negative self-image that has divided our thinking on the future of the state. Some have adopted a more closed off mindset to some areas of change. This stubbornness can be hurtful for future generations when we do not take steps to actively encourage entrepreneurism across various disciplines.

My hope is that this generation can help break free from this cycle with a renewed state pride around optimism and the welcoming of new ideas. The new identity of West Virginia and other Appalachian states should be one that embraces its hardworking past and encourages out-of-the box thinking from within its non-uniform borders.

Brief History of Appalachia
Timbers from Appalachian forests helped frame our country from a group of colonies to an independent nation. Once the forests had been conquered, mineral extraction became the hidden fruit of the region. Buried in beautiful canyons and along majestic ridge lines, the power source of the 20th century lay in waiting.

The coal mines of Appalachia fed the steel mills of the North, creating incredible public works and critical infrastructure across the nation. These bridges, buildings and tunnels connected people previously separated by natural barriers throughout the country and helped an economic food chain create some of the more diverse communities in the United States within the mountains and hollows of the coalfields.

Exploitation of both human and environmental capital has been too common of a practice for the residents and resources of Appalachia.  Environmental barriers  first isolated this region but since the Civil War it has been economic isolation that has since afflicted WV.

Coal companies owned towns and communities, from homes to the currency used by worker residents. Some coal operators employed the cheapest, fastest method for extraction, no matter the environmental and social impact. Many of these communities were used for their natural gifts, and then left for cheaper labor and cleaner coal without a contingency plan for its residents. As this exodus of industry continues to play out in West Virginia, more than ever, these communities are in need of hope and a renewed spirit.

A Case for Appalachia and SustainU
I believe that there are inherent advantages and strategic opportunities waiting to be uncovered in the towns and communities of West Virginia. I believe Appalachia can lead in ways not yet fully realized.

My hope is that businesses like SustainU can help shed light on the potential of Appalachia. In the 21st century, places like WV will become vital to the needs of a growing country and world population.

Our state possesses assets that will continue to increase in value in the global market. Here are three very brief examples:

  • FOOD – Family farms that have been left behind can become agricultural incubators for the dietary needs of the United States and the world. Agricultural Innovation can be a game changer for Appalachia and we have the farms to do it. Land that once was mined can be repurposed through innovative reclamation practices. West Virginians are accustomed to providing critical resources to our nation, and in the next fifty years this skill could be applied to food.
  • LOCATION – Many places in WV are located within nine driving hours of two-thirds of the US population. From a distribution and manufacturing prospective, WV could be the most ideal hub of the 21st Century for fast fulfillment. In addition, the access to major waterways and the close proximity to major harbors allows this region to be ideal for exportation to global destinations.
  • WATER – 40 out of 50 state water managers expect water shortages in some portion of their states over the next decade. WV contains major rivers and headwaters, and the incredible importance of water cannot be overstated. Watersheds in WV that can be rejuvenated will reap both economic and incredible social benefit.

Today, we should not abandon the natural gifts we have been given (including coal and natural gas), but the days of exploitation have to end.

Stewardship for the residents, landscape and waterways of Appalachia can no longer be a secondary thought. We should lead with holistic sustainability as this services both the needs of today and those of our future generations.

As we transition into new industries we need to be extremely sensitive to the social, economic and environmental needs of the communities that first molded our state. How we respond to the problems and prospects of the coming years will be remembered by future generations.

We take incredible pride in our lineage because of its legacy of hard work, resiliency and service to our communities and our nation. With the encroachment of the unknown, we should stay.

Instead of retreating to an easier path of the immediate, I urge Appalachian residents to rethink their region. The attributes you admire are available to you now and in this generation. It could be time for you stay where you are or come back home to be part of the solution.

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SustainU and MLB Launch Line of Sports-Licensed Apparel, “MLB by SustainU”

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We are thrilled to officially announce our licensed partnership with Major League Baseball (MLB) for our 2016 line of official sports-licensed apparel, MLB by SustainU.

We’ve been excited about this for quite some time, so keeping the official announcement under wraps has been difficult!

MLB by SustainU is now available on our Online Store and MLB.com/Shop.

This collection was designed for a generation of fans that advocate sustainability, outdoor conservation and other related social issues. Millennials tend to shop for clothing that reflects their ideals and individuality. Apparel can be an identifier of values, and team allegiances are shown in many colors and logos.

Graphics for all teams in both the National League and American League embody inspiration from fashion, millennials and outdoor adventure. A wide variation of styles are represented in the line’s following collections:

  • BRAND
  • ELEMENTS
  • CONSERVE/NATION (featuring REALTREE® camo)
  • IPA (Intentionally Produced Apparel)
  • MUSIC 

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Whether you’re a hardcore fan, casual fan or want to show off regional pride by wearing your team’s colors and logo – we’ve made styles suited for you.

In our initial research, we found that eco-friendly and/or sustainable options already out there were either too expensive or inaccessible to most sports fans. Furthermore, we discovered there are untapped retail distribution opportunities within the traditional sales channels for sports-licensed products, (for example, outdoor/adventure).

In 2011, MLB was already being green. MLB Green Teams collected recyclables during the World Series in Arlington, Texas. Therefore, we felt that sustainable product lines were needed within the professional sports industry.

Our MLB partnership to produce sustainable apparel further supplies an authentic canvas for their commitment to social and environmental innovation. Through the SustainU and MLB licensed partnership, fans will now have an option to purchase an affordable, accessible and tangible product, while also being able to embody their favorite team(s).

“MLB by SustainU” shirts are currently available for sale with vendors at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Wrigley Field, Busch StadiumBelow is an example of a display at Chase Field in Phoenix, AZ.

SustainU-Fixture 2The video below of Cardinals Merchandise at Busch Stadium showcases the SustainU collection within their store (starting around 0:38).

To follow our story or see some of the upcoming designs, other teams we’re working with and more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, or like us on Facebook! Give us a call at (304) 413-0416 with any questions you may have.

SustainU Clothing Provides A Made In USA & 100% Recycled Shirt Option For Inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship Game

SustainU, a leading producer of American Made, 100% recycled clothing, announces their collaboration with FMI as the exclusive shirt provider at this year’s first ever College Football National Championship.

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“We are excited to have the opportunity to provide a 100% recycled, USA Made garment at this year’s game,” said Chris Yura, CEO and founder of SustainU.

“We’re the exclusive provider for AT&T Stadium and other on-site venues. It’s exciting for our company that all of these products are coming from West Virginia to be sold during the National Championship.“

Beginning January 5th, nearly 20,000 shirts will be sent to Texas for the first ever College Football National Championship Game. In addition to providing SustainU brand shirts, the company was able to offer eco-friendly printing on other products as well.

Since the company began 5 years ago, individuals who have chosen to wear a shirt made by SustainU have collectively saved over 4.8 MILLION KG of CO2 EMISSIONS, 12,500 GALLONS OF AGROCHEMICALS, 284.8 MILLION GALLONS OF WATER, AND 100K GALLONS OF GASOLINE/PETROLEUM.

We’ve all heard it said: “The clothes make the man.”

Whether you believe that clothes reveal to us a person’s identity or not, you can certainly learn something about a person by the clothes that they wear.

What is their favorite team? Do they like to work out? What kind of job do they have?

Our clothes tell a story about our preferences to the world.

At SustainU, we want the stories are garments are telling to reflect the core values of our company, by the things that go into our garments as well as by the embellishments on them. We are proud that every SustainU product is made from 100% recycled material, that is, things that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. And the people who knit, cut, sew and print our garments are Americans whose names we know.

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We now have crew neck sweatshirts, made from 100% recycled materials! For our photo shoot last fall we were lucky enough to visit Footprints Farm, a local sustainably designed, family farm that grows premium quality meats, vegetables, and herbs using natural and traditional farming systems. If you’re close to Fayette County, PA, check them out!

For us, it’s not just a business, it’s personal. And, to us, that is a story worth telling.

So, next time you pull your shirt over your head, think about what you’re saying to the world. If that story is not one you’re excited about, change it. Join us in heralding the revitalization of American manufacturing by using recycled products to make high quality, comfortable clothing. Once you start doing that, it will never be “just a t-shirt” again.

Let’s be honest. We can afford it.

Instead of trying to sell our products at a higher margin because it is 100% recycled and made in the USA, we would rather sell them as low as we can afford, while still being financially sustainable. This may be a very different approach than many apparel companies, but that is exactly why SustainU was founded. We want to be radically different so that more people can become part of a more sustainable solution.  If the sustainable product movement is only relying on the purchases of the elite, it is not going to be a reality.

What does it cost to make a tee?
Cost for a tee varies of course from company to company, but for us the cost is around $5 for a finished garment. This final costs is a combination of what we pay for fabric, transportation, cutting and sewing, embellishment and packaging. Our highest costs are for the actual sewing of the garment as we only employ American companies. Companies that manufacture overseas have even lower production costs.

What other costs are there?
Obviously, there are other costs besides what it directly takes to make a shirt: overhead costs such as rent, utilities, insurance, salaries for sales, administrative and marketing staff and other associated costs all have to be covered by the sale of garments. Different companies have different overhead costs, but for companies that sell more garments the amount of overhead costs per garment goes down.

So why are some sustainable clothes so expensive?
We can’t speak for every company, but we sell our basic tees for just $12. That means that just $7 per shirt is left to cover our overhead. Compare that other “sustainable” clothing companies that charge anywhere from $25 to $100 for an eco-shirt. They may have slightly higher costs, but the reality is that most of that is going towards owner profit.

We want everyone to be able to afford sustainable clothing, so we keep our margins and profits as low as possible, making our garments accessible for everyone. When it comes to conserving what we have for future generations, we can afford it.