Two weeks out of high school in Fresno, California, RYAN CHRISTENSEN '02 landed smack in the middle of Bend, and discovered for the first time that he was different.
He was a student at Central Oregon Community College, and found he was "almost the only minority there," he says. Christensen's father was black, and his mother was Italian, but his high school in Fresno was multicultural, so he had blended in. In Bend, "I stood out like a sore thumb, but in a positive way," he says.
On the outside, he looked different, but he realized: "No one is turned off or scared by me. That's the year I thought of Sameunderneath: Despite our race, religious and political differences, we're all the same underneath."
It was a philosophy he applied at Portland State when he transferred two years later. For his senior thesis in social science education, he developed an idealistic curriculum for American students to "put emphasis on the melting pot," he says. It replaced traditional American history in each year of a child's education with learning about one culture for an entire year. He says his professors loved it, but told him such a radical concept could not be implemented nationally.
"I thought, what's another way to get this point across?" Christensen says. He knew that what young people wear is important to them, because it "puts you in a certain circle or peer group. I used clothing as my weapon of choice."
He, his wife, Amy Christensen '03 and a friend, Jamal Qutub '01, went in together to create a line of clothing under the brand Sameunderneath. While going to PSU and working two jobs, Ryan Christensen began screen-printing T-shirts with a logo created by Qutub. Christensen had no training in business or fashion, but "asked a lot of questions to gain knowledge of how to run a business," he says.
Nearly eight years later, what he calls his "eco-friendly" clothing-now a stylish line of pants, tops, and coats made out of soft bamboo fibers-is in 43 stores as well as Christensen's North Portland store. But it remains clothing with a personal touch: a long-hairded photo of Christensen appears on every label.
By Cliff Collins