CSU merchandising student partners with students from the University of South Dakota on Hult Prize-funded app for clothing sustainability

3 young women stand with a sign that says "wear clothes that matter"

Annie Lien was in her second year at Colorado State University when the pandemic hit. Soon, she found herself home in South Dakota with her head down on her parents’ kitchen table. She was trying to make it through a science class remotely, following her lifelong dream to become a veterinarian. Lien’s father pointed out the class wasn’t making her happy, and following his advice, she switched her major to apparel and merchandising in CSU’s Department of Design and Merchandising with a minor in business that very day.

Since then, Lien has used her apparel and merchandising knowledge to join a team of students from the University of South Dakota developing an app focused on thrifting and clothing sustainability. The project was one of ten that received $100,000 in startup money from the Hult Prize Foundation in 2020.

The beginning of a great idea

Brigit Blote, the founder and CEO for the project, invited Lien to join the team because of her fashion merchandising knowledge and sense of style. Blote earned her degree in sustainability from the University of South Dakota and came up with the idea for the app while searching for a shirt with Forget Me Not flowers. A friend was wearing the shirt and suggested she thrift it rather than buy it new because it was more sustainable. After a lot of frustration trying to track down the secondhand shirt online, Blote came up with the idea for the Fomeno app (name taken from Forget Me Not flowers).

How it works

Fomeno is an app that connects stylish buyers looking to shop second-hand with thrift stores all over the country. Every thrifty shopper can relate to searching through shop after shop to find just what you’re looking for. Now, you can see an outfit on one of the app’s style influencers (it will visually look a lot like Pinterest), tap on the item, and the app will connect you to that item, or items very similar, available online from thrift stores with an online presence. You can order the item directly from the store.

“The goal of Fomeno is to reduce waste in the fashion industry and really promote thrifting and make it the simplest thrifting experience yet, bringing it right to your lap,” said Lien.

The app connects you to stores all across the country so you can find what you want, but also showcases nearby stores to promote local businesses and reduce the carbon footprint from shipping long distances.

“In reality, you actually get better items for a lower price because it’s not fast fashion,” Lien continued. “A lot more thought and time goes into the production of these items that these older generations have just given away.”

5 headshots of young women working on the Fomeno App
From left to right: Brigit Blote, Payton Ryz, Ashlyn Atwod, Annie Lien, and Beamlak Abate

Lien’s role in this endeavor is recruiting style influencers. This is helping to generate motivational style imagery for the app. It’s a place for shoppers to start. Other members of the team include Payton Ryz, chief of communications, and Ashlyn Atwood, chief of design. Both are also students from the University of South Dakota and were part of the initial team that competed for the Hult Prize money. Also recently added to the team is Beamlak (Bammi) Abate, who works as the Fomeno technical Lead. Fomeno takes great pride in being owned and operated by an all-women team.

Winning the Hult Prize

Before Lien and Abate joined the team, Blote, Atwood, and Riz co-founded the project and took the idea for the app to the Hult Prize competition.

“The Hult Prize is a global college student entrepreneurial competition,” Blote said. “It takes place in 121 countries around the globe and offers a grand prize of $1 million to one team that creates the most impactful startup each year.”

Lien shared that the year Fomeno competed for the prize, the foundation was sorting through many impacts from the COVID-19 virus, and chose 10 winners instead, each receiving $100,000 in seed capital. Fomeno was one of these winners, and now has startup money to begin building their brand.

An image of an app on a phone that says "Welcom to Fomeno"
Image courtesy of the University of South Dakota Marketing Department: Aaron Mercado and Zybnek Surovec

Threads of Green Thrifted Fashion Show

The app is currently in beta testing by the team. In preparation for their launch, Lien has taken the lead in planning a promotional fashion show for Fomeno. One of the influencers working with the app, also an event planner, floated the idea of an event really rooted in community. Soon the team was planning a thrifted and sustainable fashion show to continue fundraising for Fomeno. The Threads of Green Thrifted Fashion Show will take place on the evening of Nov. 24, in Spearfish (near Rapid City), South Dakota. The show will hopefully serve as a launch party; the team hopes to get the app up and running by the end of this year.

Lien is “having a blast” planning the fashion show and is gaining great experience as she’s also one of the directors in charge of planning the Colorado State University Department of Design and Merchandising’s fashion show next spring.

Everything at the show will be local. Models will be from Rapid City or surrounding areas and the show is inclusive of diverse body sizes. The show will also feature eight local thrift vendors so people can shop and support local businesses while at the show. The show will also partner with Treasure Island, a Rapid City thrift store that employs people with special needs. Two people with special needs will walk in the fashion show, their looks auctioned off, and all proceeds will go back to that cause.

“It’s going to be about sustainability, body positivity, supporting your local shops…and giving back to the community!” Lien said.

Spearfish is only a 4-5-hour drive from Fort Collins. The show will be a large, upscale event with specialty drinks, a dress code, and lots of fun. To get your tickets, visit the Threads of Green event webpage. Lien is also working on providing virtual options for watching, so stay tuned for that information.

Fomeno’s lasting impact

While the app brings together technology and sustainability, the journey has been about so much more for this team of young women. It’s also been about connection. Lien says she’s learned a lot about marketing events, explaining to people how important and impactful their actions can be, and partnering with other local business-minded entrepreneurs.

“It’s not just about checking boxes,” she says, “I get to build relationships with all these people I’m communicating with.”

The team itself has formed a strong bond with one another through weekly online meetings. Lien and Blote knew each other in high school, but Lien’s addition to the team was rooted in Blote recognizing Lien’s strengths and passions. At the core of this team, young women are supporting one another’s strengths, building each other up, and growing together.

“One thing I love about this team is we’re big dreamers; if we put our mind to something it will happen,” Lien said.

The team has ideas for where the app could go next. Follow them on their website thriftfomeno.com and on social to track their progress.

The Department of Design and Merchandising is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.