Serengetee is a social venture clothing company run solely by a team college students. The inspiration behind this brand came when the students went abroad on Semester at Sea, a study abroad program hosted by the University of Virginia. Jeff Steitz, of Claremont McKenna College, and Ryan Westberg, of the University of Arizona, began collecting fabrics in each of the countries they we visited while on their voyage. What started as a small handful of fabrics from Ghana led to a collection of over 100 different fabrics from over 30 different countries that are made into pockets on crew necks, v-necks, tank tops and racerbacks.
The business model dictates that 50% of T-shirt sale profits go to charities from the region where the fabric was purchased. Serengetee has already teamed up with over 12 charities around the globe.
Serengetee allows their customers to fully customize their shirts on their website by selecting what fabric they want, the style of shirt and finally the shirt color and size.
Who are the people that inspired you to follow your dreams?
(Ryan and Jeff)
Our parents have been very supportive for the most part of us starting up the company even though they definitely have had their doubts. Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise, is also a huge inspiration for us. He is also a Semester at Sea Alumni and spoke on our voyage last fall. It was really a dream come true when Adam agreed to join our board of advisors.
Was there a turning point in your life, an event that led to your current career?
There was a pretty clear turning point in my life and it was the day I got accepted into Semester at Sea last spring. Through Semester at Sea is how I met Jeff and where a lot of the inspiration behind our brand began. Jeff and I traveled together in most of the countries, so we were able to witness together the everyday hardships that occur in developing countries. This led us to become determined to find a way to possibly help out on a larger scale.
What advice would you give other young people about pursuing a career in the face of failure?
When you're starting a young business, especially out of a dormroom, it's a good bet you're going to have to experience failure once or twice. Fortunately for us, Serengetee has avoided any catastrophic failures so far, but we are constantly dealing with tough situations. The key here is to be solution-driven rather than problem-driven. Fixing a problem usually means fixing an ineffective system, which can often require some creativity and ingenuity. Thoughts of failure should never stand in the way of success. Like in any other facet of life, you learn from all of your mistakes and come out stronger.
Three main tips for success?
1) Stop Thinking and Dive In - This world is filled with people who have great ideas but can't turn them to gold. 2) Find Your Inspiration - This may sound cliché, but understanding what inspires and motivates you is crucial to success. It's much more rewarding to be passionate and successful than to just be successful. 3) Celebrate Your Success - When something good happens, make sure to celebrate it. There's nothing wrong with stopping to smell the flowers and reminding yourself how far you've come.
What does success mean to you and your business?
(Jeff and Ryan)
Success for Serengetee comes in many different shapes and sizes. First and foremost, we are a clothing brand, and want to grow out the Serengetee brand to people across the world. But we also measure success by our impact in communities around the world through a strong mission and effective partnerships with charities. We fully believe that we can change lives. We are also looking to increase our line of fabrics so that our patterns span over 100 countries worldwide.
What drives you to work so hard?
Freedom. I made a decision a while back that I would not live an ordinary life. I have always wanted to build something of my own and help incite positive change around the globe. Starting Serengetee allows me to combine all of the things I love most - traveling, business, fabrics, people - into a great lifestyle. Achieving my own set goals is what drives me the most.
Along with Jeff I have always wanted to do my own thing and create things on my own. We started Serengetee with the intent to try and positively impact communities around the world but also to quench our thirst for travel. The thought of creating something successful from nothing, on our own, is what drives me the most. “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and in between does what he wants to do.” – Bob Dylan
If you could collaborate with any artist/entrepreneur/business, who would it be?
(Ryan and Jeff)
Adam Braun is definitely an inspiration for the both of us and we hope that we can collaborate more with both him and Pencils of Promise. Companies that we hope to collaborate would have to include Toms and Patagonia, not only because of their great products but both companies have great missions.
How do you improve yourself from day to day as your business grows?
For Serengetee, creativity is king. Our team is always in the business of generating new ideas that can help grow our business. As long as the idea is there, everything else follows. Running the company is the easy part!
What I’ve come to find is there will always be a problem and that’s just how running a business goes, big or small. You have to be prepared and ready to handle everything yourself. I feel I am growing and learning just as fast as Serengetee is.
What plans do you have for your career that we would have never suspect? How do you plan on expanding your business, keeping it relevant in the future?
(Ryan and Jeff)
We like to think that Serengetee is more than just a clothing brand. By incorporating [tangibly ecletic] fabrics into our clothing and allowing customers the ability to give back, our clothing comes loaded; each pocket t-shirt has a story and our customers embrace this aspect of Serengetee. We truly connect customers to the globe through something as simple and popular as a t-shirt, which gives meaning to an everyday item that will be around forever. We also look forward to expanding our line, so everyone should definitely stay tuned for that!
With so much going on in your life right now, how do you keep yourself humble in light of your accomplishments? Do you think it is even important to be humble?
I think it's important to always be confident, while at the same time keeping everything in perspective. Traveling around the world really set me up for success in this department.
Confidence is an important attribute, and confidence in your product is even more important; sometimes you can just let things speak for themselves.
Where do you see yourself 5, 10, 50 years down the line when you’ve achieved everything you aspire for today?
This is a great question and one that often gets lost in the day-to-day when running a young business. To be honest, I am not the most patient guy in the world, and I am also not the best long-term planner. My goal for Serengetee is to become a well-known brand that can ultimately help tackle issues across the globe through effective contributions. I don't like to think in terms of exact timeframes, but I will do everything in my power to get it there as soon as possible.
I have no idea where I’ll be after I graduate next year. I could not have seen myself where I am now last year. I hope that in the far and immediate future I’m happy and have made some kind of positive impact on someone’s life.
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