You may not think of Katherine Mathis–a hip, pretty blonde originally from Marietta, Georgia–as your typical Tenderloin resident. And that assumption is part of the problem. The 28-year-old branding executive says her Hyde Street apartment is in a “super-cool, funky neighborhood” and as someone who’s lived in everywhere from Paris to Brooklyn to the Marina, she ought to know. She’s currently a finalist for 7×7 magazine’s “Hot 20 Under 40“. If you want to vote to get her into the top 10, make sure you do it before voting closes at 11:59pm tonight.

Frank and engaging, Mathis is the principal at Revolver Studios (Twitter), a thriving branding and marketing firm she founded in June 2009. Mathis’s background is working with luxury brands like Hermes and Cartier, but Revolver maintains an edgy, irreverent, yet meticulously crafted aesthetic. As Mathis says, if a client wants boring, she can do it, and very well. But she prefers to keep things fun and now has an international client list. In fact, the day after we spoke, she was jetting off to El Salvador to meet with a new company.

Although Mathis’s five-person office is located by the Embarcadero (gotta keep up a high-end image, she explains) she makes her home in a neighborhood all her friends warned her against. Mathis had four roommates in her prior apartment in the Dogpatch and quite frankly, she says, the Tenderloin was one of the cheapest neighborhoods for studios. After she got used to the street noise, Mathis explored the area and she can’t say enough about the care and expertise with which the chef at Lahore Karahi fixes delicious Punjabi food. She also recommends the newly opened Hooker’s Sweet Treats as a meeting spot for business associates.

For now, Mathis intends to stay in the Tenderloin, and she wants to keep her business as it is as well. “I want to stay small, it allows us to be nimble,” she says. But Mathis also recognizes that change, both in her business and her neighborhood is inevitable. She feels the Tenderloin has a way to go before it gets too expensive, and thinks “Oakland is in a good place right now” in terms of gentrification. Mathis is quick to say that despite the Tenderloin’s reputation as a hotbed for the drug trade and thieves, she’s never had any personal attacks. In fact, the one time she got her phone stolen, it was in the Financial District. “I was so glad it didn’t happen in the Tenderloin because I just knew everyone would tell me, ‘We told you so’,” she says. “It’s up to people like us not to be afraid of the rep.”

Photo credit: Brandon Joseph Baker. Shot in Mathis’s Tenderloin apartment.