A local business venture aiming to make fashion more sustainable is one step closer to its launch after receiving $100k in seed capital from the global competition, the 2020 Hult Prize Challenge.

Fomeno is an app that gathers online thrift stores in one place, streamlining the often overwhelming process of secondhand shopping. Founder and CEO, Brigit Blote, came up with the idea after a long hunt for a particular t-shirt featuring a forget-me-not flower—hence the name, Fomeno. 

The app allows shoppers to search its database for specific items and also provides a community aspect around fashion influencers and inspiration.

“We wanted to make thrifting more simple and make it a more enjoyable experience,” Blote said.

Blote is currently a third-year student at the University of South Dakota (USD) where she studies sustainability. Her co-founder and chief of design, Ashlynn Atwood, graduated from USD in December, and her chief of communications, Payton Ryz, is also a USD student.

L to R: Brigit Blote, Payton Ryz, Ashlynn Atwood

Competing for the Hult Prize

The Fomeno team first gained recognition through their success in USD’s round of the Hult Prize Competition, an international foundation focused on encouraging student startups and innovation through on-campus programs, competitions, and accelerators. 

Each year, the competition is centered around a theme. Past years have focused on education, clean water, and energy poverty, and in 2020, the theme was sustainability, making it a perfect venue for Fomeno.

After winning first place in USD’s competition, the Fomeno team was eligible to go on to the United States regional competition in Boston, where they placed first yet again, qualifying them for the global finals.

“I think it’s our team that really sets us apart. We’re all really best friends, and we’re on this same mission and aligned—we always call ourselves the ‘soul sisters,’” Ryz said.

“We all work together and bring unique aspects to the business, and I think that showed in our interviews with the Hult Prize team members. They commented on how excited and energetic we are and how unique our team and story is, and it helps set us apart.” 

Initially, the finals were to be held in London in December 2020 with a $1 million prize at stake. Because of COVID-19, those plans were cancelled. The competition was held virtually, and the prize was altered to give 11 of the 30 competing startups $100k in seed money. 

Fomeno was one of those 11 startups, and they’re using that funding to move the needle on development and final touches before their launch, which they hope will occur this summer. Additionally, Blote and Ryz say that the Hult Prize network continues to provide support and assistance. 

“Their mission with this $100k is to get us to the point where we can have way more investors,” Ryz said. “It’s all about gaining whatever traction we can with that money over the next year.”

Blote added, “We’ve had so much access to Hult Prize mentors and connections in that community—they really want to see our enterprises succeed, which has been really nice. Of all the funding we could have gotten, theirs has been helpful in so many ways besides just the monetary contribution.”

What’s next for Fomeno?

Moving forward toward their hopeful summer launch, the Fomeno team has three main areas of focus: advancing their technology, pursuing future investors, and marketing. With the help of their Hult Prize network and funding, and their natural resourcefulness as a team, Fomeno is determined to make it happen. 

“Some of the people put teams together based solely on strengths, but our team is a little different in that we’re all on the same mission,” Blote said. “We have our strengths. but we’re willing to just learn and find the tools and skills to make it happen.” 

Working on their pitch for the regional Hult Prize competition in Boston.

Right now, those tools and skills include app development, which they’ve been able to outsource thanks to the Hult funding. 

“The biggest roadblock in launching Fomeno has been the tech component. We’re working with a developer who we met through the Hult Prize, but it’s just so complicated,” Ryz said.

“The only thing I can correlate it to is building a house. It’s like you’re building this mansion of a house, and you have no experience. You think it’s going to be done at one point, but then there are plumbing issues and roofing issues, and nothing goes as planned. You’re kind of learning to speak in this new language. It’s challenging, but we’re learning a lot.”

Another challenge has been their status as full-time students, not to mention D1 student athletes. Blote will be graduating early to work on Fomeno, and her other co-founder Atwood, just graduated in December. 

“It’s just been about choosing what you want to prioritize and work on,” Ryz said.

“I think it’s going to make us stronger, and we’ll be willing to work so much harder once we’re out of school since we’re used to juggling so much.”

For now, the women continue to push forward with their mission of promoting sustainability through thrifting.   

“We’re always looking for networking opportunities, anything where we can connect with people within the retail or resale industries or the sustainability industry,” Ryz said.

Additionally, the Fomeno community is always searching for fashion influencers. If you’re interested, reach out at thriftfomeno@gmail.com

To learn more about the business, visit thriftfomeno.com. You can also follow Fomeno on Instagram at @threads_of_green