Startup unisex streetwear brand appeals to global nomads by Alena Kuzub May 23, 2023 Share Mastodon Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University Stylistically, this startup unisex streetwear brand embraces the idea of global nomads who travel light. Many streetwear brands represent locality, where they are from, or certain subcultures like skating or surfing. But Foreign Resource—a startup developed by third-year Northeastern University students Robert Yang and Matias Belete—manifests something invisible, metaphysical—the third culture. “It’s this cultural identity that is distinct and separate from a geographic location,” says Yang, who grew up in the Queens borough of New York City. “It represents independence once you gain perspective and the idea of accepting different cultures and being able to appreciate the diversity throughout the globe.” The name of the brand also refers to the unsustainable use of natural resources and the time when some of them will deteriorate, become extinct or “foreign” to humanity. Belete expresses this idea through the deconstruction of items. For example, the “Eroded Edges” ring from their jewelry line looks like a deteriorating stainless steel snowflake that is eroding and cracking. Matias Belete who studies economics and finance, and Robert Yang, who studies finance, created Foreign Resource, a streetwear business. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University “Our aesthetic is rooted in naturalism,” he adds. “I think nature is the purest form of beauty.” What elevates the look of a nomad is pearl jewelry, featuring naturally grown pearls from West Africa. Jewelry is something that travelers can easily bring on the road. “One thing I latched onto was modular design,” Belete says. “The necklace he [Yang] is wearing, can be worn as a bracelet or an anklet. People even wear it on their belt loops. So, you can take it apart and there are extra pendants.” He plans to apply the concept of modular design to the apparel as well. The idea of Foreign Resource came to Belete a few years ago when he and his family lived in Vietnam. He grew up across five countries, including China, India, Kenya and Senegal. When he was a teenager he started designing clothes. The first Foreign Resource collection consisted of two hoodies and became available for purchase in 2021. Belete met Yang at an accounting class their freshman year. One day, they both wore clothes from the same niche streetwear brand to school and were pretty surprised by that. “That sparked our first conversation,” Belete says. They kept a dialogue going about fashion and connected every few months until Yang saw Belete making more and more experimental and technically difficult pieces of clothing for Foreign Resource. “I got the impression that Matias was amazing on the design side, but maybe there was something on the business side that could have needed more assistance,” says Yang, who also did a co-op at an accelerator for startups in New York City. Now they are business partners. Belete is the creative director of Foreign Resource, while Yang is in charge of the financial side as the chief executive officer. The brand already has two product lines—apparel and jewelry—and is preparing to release a capsule collection of travel accessories, including backpacks, toiletry bags, wallets and passport holders. Their target audience: borderless nomads, people who travel a lot and have connections with different parts of the world. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University Yang and Belete are traveling to New York City this summer to jump-start their fall semester co-op in one of the world’s great fashion capitals. They are going to be working full-time on their brand. As part of Northeastern University’s signature experiential learning program, the two friends with a vision and a business plan can spend six months working on their own company as a co-op. “I asked my guidance counselor, what if I could work on my own venture on co-op instead of for another company?” Yang says. The answer was “Actually, we have that.” The Michael J. and Ann Sherman Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship at Northeastern provides student entrepreneurs with an opportunity to devote six months to developing their own business venture. Students still get paid for doing this co-op, and they are not judged on the success of their venture concept. “We are just going to work on the brand full-time, all day, every single day,” Yang says. “We’re gonna live and breathe this.” Another important unique component of the brand that the two partners want to work on while on the co-op is the way they are going to distribute their products and reach customers. At first, Belete relied on direct sales from the Foreign Resource website and Instagram social network. The brand was able to reach streetwear aficionados in 20 countries. To scale up and grow the business, Yang and Belete want to use the model of pop-up stores that are usually viewed as a marketing tool. “Retail is experiencing a huge overhaul right now,” Yang says. “We saw that the future was in short-term retail, where you’re not stuck with a lease contract and associated fixed costs.” Pop-ups offer a lot of flexibility. They can last for different lengths of time, move through different locations even within one city or be completely on-demand, where customers are. Yang says they are even considering on-demand Uber-style visits to shoppers in some locales. To test-run the pop-up idea, Belete and Yang traveled to Amsterdam in November of the last year. The second pop-up took place in Boston in April. These experiences provided the partners with a few valuable takeaways. For example, they found a brand to collaborate with and share the space in Amsterdam, which allowed them to attract more visitors. They also had to design and build the setup on the spot from thrifted objects, which showed that they needed to create a minimalistic setup to go on the road with. Another takeaway—a pop-up event has to have not just the apparel for sale, but some incentive to attract people. In Amsterdam, they served a custom drink that changed color, for example. “The moment we figure out pop-ups,” Yang says, “we’re launching a pop-up tour, similar to how musicians launch the concert tour, and this will go all across the globe.” While preparing for the co-op, Belete and Yang used services of the student-led venture accelerator, IDEA. The program fosters the development of entrepreneurs in the Northeastern community through the educational experience of developing a business from concept to launch. “IDEA has been really helpful for us,” Belete says. “The first thing they started to help us out with was customer research to understand our customers better. They paired us with a lot of mentors.” Foreign Resource have also applied for a Gap Fund grant through IDEA—a $10,000 non-equity educational grant available to ventures that are launch-ready. Yang says Northeastern might be the best school in the country for entrepreneurship because of the support they have received. “It’s pretty surreal,” Belete says. “We’re still pinching ourselves.” Alena Kuzub is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AlenaKuzub.