A local business led by three young entrepreneurs is planning to launch early this summer after taking home $100,000 in seed money in an international tournament last month.
The founders of Fomeno, an app that encourages sustainable fashion, were one of 11 businesses out of 30 finalists that won the 2020 Hult Prize Challenge, an award for an entrepreneurial venture from college students that addresses a pressing social issue.
Fomeno allows shoppers to search its online database from local thrifters and online curators to find specific items. Simply put, it makes thrift shopping easier, said Payton Ryz, 20, chief of communications.
Brigit Blote, 21, the founder and CEO of Fomeno, is currently a student at the University of South Dakota, studying sustainability. Ashlynn Atwood, 22, co-founder and chief of design, graduated from USD in September, and Ryz is also still a USD student. All three juggled Fomeno and the Hult Prize competition as full-time students and D1 student athletes.
Once they’re all graduated, it’ll mean more time to invest in their business, Ryz said.
The Hult Prize is usually a $1 million award to one business, but the prize was divided among global finalists this year because of the pandemic.
“In a way, there are negatives and positives to it,” Ryz said. “This way, the Hult Prize now has 11 times the impact with 11 more start ups supported that’ll have a positive impact on the planet.”
It started with the search for a thrifted t-shirt
Fomeno all started because Blote was just looking for a thrifted T-shirt.
She was studying abroad in Costa Rica, and a friend of hers had a “Forget Me Not” T-shirt she decided she needed to have. But the brand is expensive, and she wanted to find it second-hand to be more sustainable.
The search was so difficult that she used different apps and websites, and it was still tough to find the right size.
There had to be an easier way, she thought.
So, Fomeno (a shorter reference to the “Forget Me Not” T-shirt) was born.
“This is a platform for the simplest thrifting experience yet,” Ryz said. “We connect shoppers with hundreds of different thrift stores online and make it easy to search specific clothing items or discover items inspired from influencers.”
Addressing climate change, fast fashion and sustainability
The app is also a way to address climate change, fast fashion and sustainability. The fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply, according to Business Insider.
With such an impact on sustainability, the thrifting industry is growing rapidly, Ryz said, adding that negative stigmas about thrifting being “dirty and gross” have changed. Online thrifting will grow from $22 billion to $64 billion in the next four years, she said.
Instagrammers and other social media businesses are popping up to sell curated thrifting clothing over social media. That’s the kind of market Fomeno is looking to tap into along with already established second-hand stores, such as Plato’s Closet. Many of those stores created online inventories during the pandemic. That convenience is going to stay, Ryz said.
To reduce shipping packaging and waste, Ryz said the team is planning to restrict shopping to a radius around users’ locations, so a person in South Dakota isn’t shopping from Los Angeles vendors and contributing to carbon emissions from shipping. They’re also looking to partner with sustainable packaging companies.
The company is growing fast, and they’re planning to launch early this summer and have a fully-functioning website and app later in the year. The team also added a style curator, Anne Lien, to help grow their connections in the fashion industry and contact fashion influencers.
The team’s mission to make a difference in sustainable fashion is what’s driving them, Ryz said.
“We want to change people’s mindsets,” Ryz said, “so before they go buy anything they’ll look to see if it’s thrifted first.”