Q&A with Ryan Christensen, Founder, SameUnderneath
What is SameUnderneath’s creation story? I grew up in Fresno, California in a mixed, diverse household. I’m half-Black and half-Italian. Right out of high school, I moved to Bend, Oregon in 1995. That was the first time that I realized that I stuck out like a sore thumb.
Living in Fresno, it wasn’t a big deal being a child of mixed ethnicity. It wasn’t brought to my attention until I moved to Bend. I noticed that people were attracted to and intrigued by my diverse background. People were eager to get to know me better.
The idea of cross-pollinating a history class and a social studies class was the bedrock for Sameunderneath. In college, I wanted to develop a teaching curriculum that melded both history and social studies for the public school system, to give children and young adults from diverse backgrounds to learn about each other in a positive way. I was told that the approach is a little too progressive.
To take the SameUnderneath “curriculum” out to young adults, I looked to pop culture. One of the best vehicles of pop culture is clothing. Each and every one of us chooses to wear brands and labels to reflect who we are. I thought of creating clothing that reflects the concept that as human beings, regardless of outward differences, we are all the “same underneath.”
What is the one thing that SameUnderneath is the best in the world at? Authenticity: we’re all very honest and open. Our designers have the freedom to create designs and apparel that truly reflect their own vision of SameUnderneath. Instead of control, we have confidence in our creative team.
What issues and causes are important to your customers? SameUnderneath champions three areas of social awareness: education, environment and politics. Those make up the heart, brain and backbone of all efforts to make this world a better place.
The company was built on the idea of education, getting people to understand and embrace each other. Our commitment to the environmental cause is reflected in our focus on sustainability in our operations. Politics is important not only on the local and national levels, but on a world level. This awareness helps combine our experiences, and again, reinforces the idea that we are all the “same underneath.”
What were the early challenges you encountered while starting the firm? Learning everything: I didn’t come from a business or fashion background. Raising funds was a challenge. We’re trying to do something that’s authentic in a feel-good company, but at the same time, we had to build a profitable company. We had to walk the fine line of staying true to the SameUnderneath ideology and paying attention to the details that make the business what it is today.
What accomplishments are you most proud of? The first time we filled an order outside of Portland was huge. Now, we ship orders all over the country. It’s very rewarding to know that SameUnderneath has a large and growing fanbase outside of the city.
A very close second was when the Portland Monthly magazine voted us the best local clothing company in 2006. It showed that the Portland community is behind us all the way. I was also named one of Portland Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40” this year. The award is an important acknowledgment from the business community.
What are some the things that you learned as an entrepreneur? You gotta stay positive, and persevere. It helps not to let your ego get in the way, and be able to accept all forms of criticisms. Bringing in the appropriate team to fill all the gaps in skills and talents needed to run the company. It takes a strong team to make a successful business.
Why do you have loyal customers? It goes back to our authenticity. People know that we’re real. Each and everybody one us is 100% behind what our company stands for. We stand by our values, and that hasn’t changed since Day One.
Our customers are our best ambassadors. We earned a great deal of attention from local and national media, and a lot of is because of our customers. Our customers truly share the love that is SameUnderneath.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do everyday? Meeting new people. I have a lot of passion about what we stand for as a company. I go out there and talk about what we do, and share the passion about our authentic story.
Colors of Influence Fall 2008