Meet Jeremy Castro, the Guam son behind UNDRCRWN and Brand Marinade

Jeremy Castro, the co-founder of the innovative apparel companies UNDRCRWN and Brand Marinade, counts among his clients elite athletes like basketball player Kevin Durant former NFL football player Mashawn Lynch and musicians like G-Eazy, Lyrics Born, and Zion-I. (photo by Jonathan Shorter)

Jeremy Castro, the co-founder of the innovative apparel companies UNDRCRWN and Brand Marinade, is of Chamorro descent and uses his rich heritage to stand out in the highly competitive apparel industry in the mainland.

This dynamic young entrepreneur, based on the west coast of the U.S., counts among his clients elite athletes like basketball player Kevin Durant, former NFL football player Marshawn Lynch and musicians like G-Eazy, Lyrics Born, and Zion-I. He has also worked with blue-chip companies and organizations like Airbnb, Google, the Golden State Warriors, Uber, Juniper Networks, Warner Bros, and USA Rugby.

With a mathematician’s mind, a photographer’s eye for creative detail and a relentless work ethic, Castro built up his companies and is now one of the highly regarded apparel companies on the west coast, known for creativity and innovations in the production process.

Based in Oakland, California, Castro comes from a large extended family of Chamorro and Italian heritage.

After graduating from Alameda High, Jeremy attended Occidental College, the alma mater of President Obama, where he completed a B.S majoring in Cognitive Science, which is the study of thought, learning, and mental organization.

After completing his MBA, majoring in Entrepreneurship, at the University of British Columbia, Jeremy set his sights on the business world. Success came early in the form of fashion brand UNDRCRWN of which Jeremy was a founder. Jeremy was instrumental in growing the business from a fledgling t-shirt concept to a global fashion brand worn by numerous celebrities and sports stars.

In 2010, Castro moved on to pursue another business interest — Brand Marinade.

Even as he established Brand Marinade as a t-shirt screen-printing business, Jeremy at the same time gained vital experience spearheading the business development and creative teams of numerous start-ups in San Francisco and Los Angeles while personally building Brand Marinade brick by brick.

In 2015, Jeremy started focusing on the business full-time. Within three short years, the business had evolved into a vertically integrated, on-demand e-commerce enterprise, working “from concept to customer” directly with some of the biggest social media influencers and cutting edge content creators in the world and shipping their products to over 100 countries.

Loves Guam

The Chamorro side of his heritage comes from his dad Joseph (Cruz) Castro, who was born on Guam, the son of Jose Castro and Rosalia Cruz (Jeje)

In 2018, Jeremy’s dad decided to visit Guam and take the whole family.

“We stayed in Malesso in the south, right on the ocean. In total, there were 12 of us that made the month-long trip to the homeland. It was amazing. We went to church for the Tinta and Faha Massacres anniversary. It was beautiful, to say the least. When my feet touched the sand and the rocks, I felt like I had been on the island forever. Guam was always an idea to me, but until my feet touched the sand, my ears heard the waves, and my skin felt the air … I felt all of my ideas and thoughts about Guam got connected in a way I couldn’t imagine. Then we met all the people and it all made even more sense,” Jeremy told PNC in an interview.

Alameda, California has many CHamoru families including Castro, Duenas, Tenorio, Manibusan, Cruz, Indalecio, Paulino, and Diego to name a few.

“My Nana and Tata didn’t speak English. They spoke to me in CHamoru. So when I got to Guam in 2018, I heard the elders speak and I heard my grandparents, their cousins, friends, and family in every word. The accent and the sound are so distinctive and brought back so many memories. When I was a kid, we’d have big family gatherings all the time. Any given Sunday, there would be 30-40 people at my grandparents’ house. Nana in the kitchen with her sister (Auntie Bek – Isabella Cruz), gold Guam bracelets clinging on the counter as they made titiya dough to go with the kelaguen, red rice, and kadu. They could feed 50 people without any notice. The house was communal. So many people, always in and out. Always fed. Always loved. To me, that was normal. And it shaped my worldview, something I hold very tight to my heart, and my actions,” Jeremy recalled.

Brand Marinade

Jeremy started Brand Marinade to prove a hypothesis he was chasing.

“I wanted to create an agile screen printing process that will enable people with a large audience to connect their following to handmade merchandise made with pride while carrying zero inventory. The supply curve will equal the demand curve,” Jeremy said.

The idea behind Brand Marinade was to create a production process that would make traditional screen printed garments/apparel (as opposed to digitally printed) so fast that nobody needs to know there was zero inventory, and opportunity can be maximized while minimizing risk.

“This process has been something I’ve been chasing since 2005 when I started the brand Undrcrwn. By the way, Brand Marinade is named and inspired by the Chamorro finadene. The idea was to build a workshop that would take some real basic ingredients and put them through a refined process to create a ‘marinade of sorts’ that will help others cultivate ideas and translate them quickly and cost-effectively into products that end up on people’s backs. I wanted to offer a process that was typically reserved for big brands with lots of resources to anyone that had original ideas and an audience to speak to,” Castro said.

Jeremy still remembers the day he decided that making apparel was his calling. In 2003, Jeremy found himself teaching Algebra at his alma mater, Alameda High School. Summer was approaching and the annual School Spirit Week was coming to a close with a big student assembly reflecting a collective school pride. That particular Friday’s theme was “Wear Your School Pride” day.

“At lunch after the assembly, one of my students ran into my classroom. I didn’t make it outside much during the school day. The student came in joyfully yelling, ‘Yo, Castro! You gotta come outside and check this out. It looks like the whole campus is wearing your shirts!’ He and I went outside and walked towards the center of campus. My emotions started running high as I began to recognize something that would eventually change the course of my life. Student after student was wearing a shirt that they chose to demonstrate their ‘School Pride.’ And it felt like every single student was wearing a shirt that I designed and printed. Tees I made for the Black Student Union, Latinos Unidos, the football team, soccer team, badminton team, Class of 2004, faculty tees, cheerleaders, leadership, baseball, the list went on and on. My mind was blown. Those late nights working in my live-work loft printing shirts all culminated into this fantastic, pride-filled day,” Castro said.

That moment changed Jeremy’s life in a profound way as it provided him with the foundation for a dream that he has been pursuing ever since: What if he could explore a career built around pride and self-expression? What if he could chase this dream for the rest of his life?

During Jeremy’s run with UNDRCRWN from 2005 to 2009, the company put a basketball and hip-hop nostalgic brand on the backs and the feet of tens of thousands of people around the world. His dream was truly reignited when renowned activist and film director Spike Lee wore one of his tees while speaking on the historical nature of Obama winning the Presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention.

“He chose to wear that shirt because he felt it represented him and that was a truly powerful sentiment given the nature of that moment. Not much unlike the day students chose to wear their school shirts when I was teaching,” Castro said.

When Jeremy started Brand Marinade, he knew the production and distribution model of t-shirts was ripe for an innovative change.

“How fast can we go from an idea in someone’s head to a shirt worn with pride on someone’s back anywhere in the world? That was the challenge I wanted to pursue next — the speed of going from concept to customer. This concept proved wildly successful and the company now provides full-time jobs, offering an environment where each person is supporting the other’s individual goals and needs.

“We all take care of each other. This solution supports each of us and also supports our clients and partners. I got a call from Marshawn’s team the day before he came out of retirement and put his apparel program in action within 24 hours, putting our solution and team to the test. We crushed it,” Jeremy said.

He added: “We are growing and I’ve spent the last month building out our 13,000 square foot space making room for new equipment so we can be ready for G-Eazy’s summer concert tour.”

Proud of Guam connection

At present, Jeremy still has family on Guam and they continue to keep in touch.

“My Nana’s sister and niece still live on Guam (Jeje clan) and we keep in touch. My brother (Jay Castro) is leading the way right now strengthening our connection to the island and the people. He helps Rita Nauta with Guampedia from time to time, and another notable Chamoru stateside. He used to work at Google and now Airbnb. He is really pushing the envelope and awareness of Guam, Chamorus, and other indigenous peoples of the world within the tech landscape,” Castro said.

According to Jeremy, being CHamoru has always been a part of his identity.

“I’ve led my life with a ‘Hafa Adai’ every day, all day. It comes with me, it leaves with me, and it is shared with everyone. I really think it is the CHamoru strength that powers me and has given me my perspective on life, love, community, inclusion, work ethic, effort, respect, dreams, history, compassion. And I think it’s those things that have set me apart,” Castro said.

When asked what advice he can give to young people on Guam who want to follow in his footsteps, Jeremy had this to say: “We are all looking to find our way in life. Find others who you can help while you are on your journey. Be useful. Be sincere. Bust your ass. In the end, others will also support you. And it is that collective of people that give you strength and support too.”

He added: “Being CHamoru is a powerful thing. We are few. So it is important to share your identity and our culture. It will make you stand out in a crowd.”