You can get a lot done in college — like meeting new friends, joining a band or starting your own business that gives back! College students Ryan Westberg and Jeff Steitz, both 22, were so moved by their study abroad program that two years ago they founded Serengetee, which sells tees and products that help with different causes around the world.
Tyler Posey launched his own line with Serengetee today, and the guys from MTV’s “The Buried Life” are also involved. Each product has fabric from a different part of the world, and the charity varies depending on location and what’s needed in that area. To learn more, I spoke with co-founder Ryan about the story behind Serengetee, how you can get involved, and what celebrities he’d like to work with next.
ACT: Can you tell us about your time studying abroad and what you saw and experienced?
RYAN: In Fall of 2011 I traveled on Semester at Sea, a study abroad program where we traveled on a ship to 13 different countries all over Africa, Asia and Central America. On this program I met Jeff Steitz, who is also a founder of Serengetee. While traveling in these countries we were able to experience how incredible each country was but also the poverty and problems that still exist. One particular memory I have was when I was in India – at night, when you would drive by the beaches, you would see hundreds and hundreds of homeless people sleeping out on the beach. I had never seen anything like that. This was one of the points where I realized I wanted to find a way to help people around the world.
While we were exploring each of the countries we visited, we began to notice the uniqueness of the textiles in each country and how each country had its own style fabric. Jeff and I began collecting these fabrics throughout the voyage. Our collection was pretty large.
ACT: How did this experience lead you to creating Serengetee?
RYAN: We were incredibly inspired by our last 4 months of travel and knew we wanted to start something, so that’s when Serengetee was born. In the forefront of everything, we knew we wanted to have a creative give back to help the countries we were visiting and purchasing fabric from.
We took these fabrics we had purchased from around the world and made them into pockets on T-shirts, tank tops and other popular clothing items – allowing our customers to ‘Wear the World,’ with a portion of every sale going back to a grassroots cause within the country where the fabric was purchased from.
This was the point in both my own life and Jeff’s where we realized we didn’t want to work a 9-5, we wanted to start something that mattered. We wanted to travel and we wanted to give back in a sustainable way. Especially growing up in a comfortable situation in the US, you don’t really know what is going on in the rest of the world until you see it with your own eyes.
Tyler Posey posing in one of his Serengetee Tees
ACT: What sorts of causes and places will people be supporting when they buy from Serengetee?
RYAN: There are many different causes that can be supported. We have partnered with organizations that support everything from Disaster Relief to Human Trafficking to Micro-Finance. We currently donate to causes in over 28 countries and hope to grow this number to 50 countries by the end of 2014!
ACT: What advice do you have to other young entrepreneurs who want to join a start up or are starting up their own nonprofits?
RYAN: There is no better time than now to make your idea into a reality. You can start something now, learn more than you possibly can in any class. And maybe you will fail, but you still just gained so much experience and relevant knowledge. Or it will be a success and you just found yourself a career you love. By being a student entrepreneur, you have so many people that want to help and see you succeed – your resources are endless; you just need to utilize them.
ACT: And how did you find the time to do all this while still being a student?
RYAN: It wasn’t easy for me or Jeff, and going to different schools in different states didn’t help, either. It was the craziest time in my life between cramming for tests one day, teaching myself graphic design and then organizing a photo shoot the next. The laundry list of projects never seems to end. This was all made a little easier by having supportive friends who were always willing to lend a han d and help out.
ACT: How else can people get involved with Serengetee besides buying a T-shirt?
RYAN: We are always looking for Campus Reps to join our program! Although the Spring Application Deadline has passed, we will be taking in more students this summer for our Hometown Rep program. You can stay up to date by signing up for our email list and by following us on our Social Media Platforms.
ACT: How did you get Tyler Posey and people from “The Buried Life” to get involved? Which celeb would you love to see in a tee, next?
RYAN: Tyler Posey will be the newest celeb to join us, and I am beyond stoked. Tyler was introduced to us by his friend Blake, who is one of our reps at SDSU. Be sure to look out for his line supporting The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The guys at “The Buried Life” joined up with us last summer and were introduced to us by a mutual friend. Their ‘Great Bear’ print benefits protecting the wolves in the Great Bear Rainforest. These are two great partnerships with awesome people … happy to have their support!
I would love to see Macklemore rocking a Serengetee. We sent both Ben and Ryan Lewis shirts over the summer, but they had too many promotions going on that the time. I still have hope, though! It would also be pretty awesome to see Rob Dyrdek in a Serengetee since he is such an entrepreneur himself.
Our marketing manager Seth would also kill to get Ed Sheeran in a shirt as well.
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