Profile: SustainU

Sustainability, West Virginia style

SustainU is blazing an exciting new direction for the West Virginia economy, taking our centuries of pride to new, exciting 21st century directions.

The small Morgantown company is doing its part to be a diverse and sustainable company right here in the Mountain State— all with T-shirts.

But it wasn’t an easy trail to blaze. In 2008, SustainU CEO Chris Yura was struggling. The West Virginia native and former Notre Dame football player was trying to get a company off the ground during our country’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And the field Yura went into— textiles— was struggling unusually so. Since 1994, 65% of the U.S. textiles industry has moved overseas; 5 of the 15 fastest declining jobs in the nation are related to textiles.

Despite all this, Yura’s plan was to manufacture T-shirts and hoodies 100% in the USA, and to headquarter his new operation here in West Virginia. Not even a decade later, SustainU is succeeding, and showing us that it is possible to make sustainable, quality products right here at home.

SustainU has knitting factories in the Carolinas, Tennessee and Pennsylvania, all of which send their clothing to the company’s Morgantown headquarters and print shop. They take their responsibility to the environment and West Virginia’s people very seriously, and in many different ways.

By staying in the USA, SustainU is providing jobs to Americans, but it goes farther than that. SustainU also uses all-recycled materials for their 50/50 cotton/polyester blend of fabric.

“A lot of us don’t view clothing as something recyclable like bottles or cans, but it is,” said marketing and sales manager Jordan Pack. “You can first reuse old clothing, turn it into rags or donate it to a thrift store. And stores like Goodwill are very good at recycling the clothing that they don’t re-sell.” You can also make polyester from recycled plastic bottles.

The success of SustainU speaks for itself: West Virginians and Americans are really excited about supporting a responsible, sustainable company. SustainU has been growing very quickly– they make shirts for music festivals like Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, musicians like Dave Matthews and Jason Mraz, and major companies like Ford, TEDx, and Ebay. Perhaps most successfully, they recently began manufacturing apparel for Major League Baseball, making officially licensed baseball team shirts.

They might be starting to dominate nationally, but SustainU stays true to its roots in the Mountain State. Yura believes that West Virginia’s location, environment and people are an advantage. We’re within 9 hours of 2/3 of the United States’ population. We’ve got extensive roads, railroads and bridges from the boom days of coal. We have plenty of water. And most of all, our people have a centuries-long tradition of loyalty, integrity and hard work.

“I believe that there are inherent advantages and strategic opportunities waiting to be uncovered in the towns and communities of West Virginia,” Yura said. “Appalachia can lead in ways not yet fully realized.”

You can literally wear SustainU’s West Virginia pride on a T-shirt! Apparel can be both a product and an advertisement. SustainU’s shirts are made responsibly in the Mountain State and they show it.

Tapping into West Virginia’s natural beauty and outdoor recreation, the T-shirts might advertise climbing at Seneca Rocks or Coopers Rock, exploring the Bridge Day adventure festival or hiking on the Appalachian Trail. The company also makes tees for West Virginia Public Radio’s #WhyIStay state pride campaign. You can buy sustainably, and let other people know about it too, all by just wearing a shirt.

SustainU also does plenty of custom work on all sizes and scales. Their Morgantown headquarters does not have a storefront, but they do sell all of their wares 100% online.

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This post was last updated on July 28, 2020