Go bold or go home?
Clothes make the man and the woman?
Welcome to a Shoebox Fund investment opportunity and a pair of student entrepreneurs -- Emmah Leu and Ben Frische -- taking full advantage.
Leu, a junior majoring in marketing, media and creative advertising for the Kelley School of Business, started Foster & Ozzy, a women’s fashion online boutique that includes a fashion-and-lifestyle blog. Frische, a senior business major at the Kelley School, runs Bootlegs, a streetwear clothing brand that offers unique, high-quality garments.
This earned both a $5,000 Shoebox Fund investment. The fund, launched with a $60,000 gift from Donna and John Shoemaker in 2020, supports student startups from the Shoebox incubator within the Shoemaker Innovation Center at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering. The fund is administered by the Luddy School in partnership with IU Ventures, which leads IU’s investment in high-potential new venture opportunities with strong university connections.
“It came down to their understanding of their market, the extent to which they have developed their product, and their plan going forward,” says Travis Brown, senior executive assistant dean of innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization.
Frische says with the money, “I can plan ahead and experiment with a greater variety of products.”
Leu says the money gives her the resources to contact a New York manufacturer -- one willing to work with young designers at an affordable cost -- and start design work. She plans on creating a new line and rebrand the company.
“I’ll travel to get a tour of their facility,” she says. “They’ll ship me the clothes. I’ll get feedback and send it back. I’ll do that as many times as needed to get it right.”
Beyond the fund, the Shoemaker Innovation Center provides student entrepreneurs and innovators the resources for business ideas to flourish and make dreams a reality. It was established in 2015 through a generous gift from John and Donna Shoemaker.
“It’s been awesome,” Leu says. “I couldn’t open a boutique without it. It gives me the space so I can work and focus and connect with others doing a similar thing.
“Having the resources right here is important. You can ask for help. Speakers are brought in who look at my stuff and give feedback. Then you pivot and make those changes. You can’t find that anywhere else.”
What’s the stories behind these two business ideas?
Let’s take a look.
Let others chill. Leu is too busy making things happen.
Flash back to her high school days in Toledo, Ohio. Her photography and web design company got things rolling when she wasn’t writing a fashion blog for girls at her high school.
Leu wanted more.
Inspiration came by entering a Roolee women’s clothing fashion contest. As a finalist, she was flown to their Salt Lake City, Utah, store where she got a behind-the-scenes view of everything from how clothes are manufactured to sketches to a production facility tour.
“I texted my mom, ‘I think I can do this on a smaller scale.’”
Upon arriving at the Luddy School as a freshman, Leu dove into all the available Shoemaker opportunities, got in touch with different campus entrepreneurial resources, and began fosterandozzy.com.
When she’s back in Toledo, she does pop-up shops at local businesses where, “People can come in and feel the quality of the clothes, try them on and find out who we are as a brand.”
Leu offers a preppy girls’ style of bold colors she compares to Matisse art. She prefers a “flowery silhouette” design that is a mix “between east and west coast.”
She says she’s known for wide-brim hats and a jump suit, or a piece you can layer.
“It’s very versatile in function. You can wear it year-round.”
Leu currently has product in her parents’ garage. Her parents help her process and send out orders.
The goal is to open a store and hire employees while still running her photography business. She wants to do artist collaborations in Toledo, printing their design on her jumpsuits, then post stories about it on her blog.
Overall, she adds, “I want to tap into a more creative element.”
For Frische, it started years ago with mother-and-son flea market trips.
“It was fun because you never knew what you’d find,” he says.
What he found were clothes, and the more he did, the more intrigued he became.
“I found clothing as a way to express yourself and who you are.”
Frische calls himself an interactive storyteller with the “audience” as part of the brand.
He saw “streetwear” focused on hip-hop groups, skateboarders and surfer groups as a way for communities to come together, but felt nobody was representing Midwestern people.
“Bootlegs brings people together and makes them feel part of something.”
He’s focused on making t-shirts, mesh shorts, knit sweaters and sweatshirts. He works with a woman in Bloomington who makes crochet pieces for him. He’s released 11 products, with more on the way.
“My goal is to move into more capital-intensive products like pants and puffer jackets.”
Two years ago, Frische began merchandizing for his fraternity. Last year, he started Bootlegs.
“Seeing how that made people feel confident and happy by wearing the clothes I was making, that was the whole reason I started the brand.”
Through Tik-Tok, Frische has sold cloths all over the U.S. and in four countries -- Australia, Poland, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.
He does everything on his own -- from design to marketing to setting up manufacturing (he has it done overseas) to customer service.
The Shoemaker opportunity could eventually lead to an actual store, but for now, he’s excited to run a functional business online and do “cool” events.