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Social Entrepreneurship from Serengetee and Semester at Sea

Steitz (front left) and Westberg (facing camera) show off fabric with workers in Guatemala

A fistful of fabric, $3,000, and the experience of sailing around the world. That’s all Jeff Steitz and Ryan Westberg, students on the Fall 2011 Voyage of Semester at Sea, had with them when they launched their own clothing company, Serengetee. 

“It all came together off Semester at Sea,” Westberg said. “Jeff had some loose ideas, but not like, ‘I’m going on Semester at Sea to start this company,’ you know? Everything was formed on Semester at Sea.”

The two friends and business partners met onboard the MV Explorer and were inspired by a stop in Ghana, where they discovered vibrant bright yellow and blue wax print fabrics. The pair started collecting fabrics from local sources in every port of call and an idea started to form. By the time Steitz and Westberg returned home, the plan for a pocket t-shirt company was firmly in their mind. The entrepreneurs used the fabric they had gathered during their voyage to create and sell pocket shirts and officially launched Serengetee in 2012 from their dorm room, with a solid base of customers already in tow thanks to the power of social media and their fellow Semester at Sea voyagers.

‚ÄúA lot of it really had to do with timing. We got really lucky that when we got off Semester at Sea social media was a completely different landscape,” Westberg said. “We didn‚Äôt have a marketing budget. Facebook, big brands weren‚Äôt utilizing it, and we just saw the power in it. When we launched, we had this base from Semester at Sea of 500-plus kids that knew we were starting this and wanted to help out. We used Facebook as our launching program.‚Äù

Serengetee now offers different kinds of shirts, bags, hats, accessories, and more. Westberg credits his time aboard Semester at Sea with opening his eyes to how business is done around the world.

“Just getting to see how the world works and how business is done in foreign countries; there‚Äôs a difference between learning something from a book and learning it first-hand, which is what you‚Äôre able to do at Semester at Sea,” Westberg said.¬†”I took a marketing class and I thought the business curriculum was great, because you‚Äôre learning about something and then you‚Äôre seeing it in person, which just is not possible from any classroom.”

Throughout the process of building their company, Westberg says they’ve never lost the sense of responsibility that Semester at Sea implanted; what he calls the “give-back factor.” Five years after the company was founded, Serengetee now imports fabric from over 25 countries around the globe, with ten percent of the company’s profits going to support organizations that provide local communities necessities like clean water, fuel efficient stoves, and other small things that can make a huge difference.

‚ÄúWe weren‚Äôt one of the first brands, but we were up there with making social entrepreneurship a thing. It was still kind of a new idea that people attached to and wanted to get behind,” said Westberg, who says he and Steitz have¬†visited over 75 countries since they sailed on the Fall 2011 Voyage.¬†‚ÄúSemester at Sea just totally opened my eyes to the world and some of the issues that are out there, and if we can do our small part to make the world a little bit of a better place by empowering some people through meaningful work, or donating to high-impact causes, it just seems like a no-brainer.‚Äù

 

 

Topics
  • Business
  • Culture
  • Education
  • Service
  • Sustainability

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