Entrepreneur Profile: FOB Lifestyle & Apparel
The word FOB (“fresh off the boat”) is often used as a derogatory term for immigrants in this country. Ricky Orng and Sopheak Sam are trying to redefine the word in a positive light through fashion! Drawn from their Southeast Asian roots where war and genocide has left a cultural black hole, these entrepreneurs created an urban-alternative street apparel line that is not only hip, but bold. They hope to ignite a sense of pride, promise, and empowerment one t-shirt at a time.
1. What inspired you to create FOB?
Ricky: It was a creative outlet for me as a young high school “artist” to really explore my growing self-expression. FOB emerged from a love of street fashion and an interest in graphic design. As a teenage Asian-American, I felt the the influence of my parents’ homeland roots and the American Pop culture. “FOB” was a derogatory word to describe an immigrant, but what I was creating was an esoteric brand that was new and a breath of fresh air; suddenly the idea of “FOBs Make The World Go Round” came about as the first t-shirt.
2. What’s unique about your product?
Sopheak: Everything we produce is limited. We rarely reprint – however, we’re looking to revive some classics and enhance them. Our products are fun and we play off Asian-American experiences and iconography. For instance, we have a line in the works all based around noodles. It sounds superficial, but for many new immigrants coming here who start off with nothing, that’s the go-to food, and those little moments around the dinner table can release some tender memories. It elicits an emotion that connects our consumers with not just a design, but real moments in their lives.
3. What are some successes you have had so far?
Ricky: In the past two years we have sold about 1,000 shirts and collaborated with two local organizations. FOB has been featured in Absolutely Fobulous, Angry Asian Man, and Cambodia’s first Khmer-English magazine, F-Magazine. Our creative projects and marketing has always been received well. People appreciate the hard work and talent put towards making our unique product. We are invited to attend shows, award ceremonies, and the runway. It is a really rewarding feeling when you go grocery shopping and see someone wearing a FOB t-shirt!
4. What are some challenges you are facing?
Ricky: Our major challenge we found is expansion. We want share our story with other Asian-Americans in the country. FOB has been fortunate to have the support of our community and they want to see us grow. Many brands have started and ended in their city, but this is a faith FOB wants to dodge! With our new web-driven model and social-media sharing enabling, we can begin to see our products go viral. And it doesn’t hurt to book a few plane tickets here and there.
5. Why did you apply for the Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll) Winter Accelerator Program and what do you hope to get out of it?
Sopheak: We wanted to refine our business and create a model that sustains us and allow growth. We were also drawn to the mentorship aspect and it’s been nothing but invaluable to us.
Ricky: We hope to get a better understanding of a start-up business. Insight in production, scaling, and expansion will be best kept. Our mentors are extremely resourceful, so an advisory board may come soon. And lastly, the push to relaunch our company this spring.
6. How do you plan to relaunch?
Sopheak: We’ll be releasing a new line during February – March, and we’re re-branding FOB so there’s more refinement in our messaging that will carry into our designs. Our website will launch around the same time. We’re also creating a e-commerce system that will draw consumers in via social media networks and reward them. It will be a very engaging form of online shopping.
7. Why should other entrepreneurs follow their dreams like you have?
Ricky: There is nothing more gratifying than being your own boss, working on what you love, and seeing your baby grow. I am now a proud parent of FOB with both a husband and wife (Sopheak Sam and Elizabeth Sous).
8. What are your long-term goals for FOB?
Sopheak: One of our biggest goal is to create a component within our model that has strong social impact towards the immigrant communities. We’re currently doing research before we approach NGOs and other organizations on how we can set up direct ways to improving the transition process for refugees and emerging immigrants – whether that’s workforce development, job placement, or enhancing other social services. We are building strategies to affect lives in a positive way while sustaining our business. Right now, that vision may take a while. Our other long term goals are to create jobs and sell nationally and internationally.