It’s a recent Tuesday in the Art and Journalism Building, and juniors Josh Sims and Nate Robert-Eze are in their usual spot, presiding over a display of unity-themed T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and wristbands.
Students respond to that theme as they pass by the budding fashion designers’ long table in The Atrium, where they wave, give fist bumps and stop to place orders.
“If we get different types of people in our clothing, they see others wearing it and connect for at least a second,” said Robert-Eze, whose Nigerian surname inspired the 2eze moniker. “In my opinion, that’s real unity, when people connect without saying a word. And when people are unified in some way, they tend to forget about race, gender or orientation.”
Behind their ideals and the camaraderie they’ve built with each other and with others is a lot of hard work and passion. The pair launched 2eze Apparel in March 2015. Since that time, they’ve learned a lot behind the scenes about entrepreneurship, from finding an apparel printer to filing taxes.
They’ve also had fun designing apparel collections, most of which include one of 2eze’s distinct logos. They have experimented with styles ranging from acid wash and camouflage to a best-selling floral line. And in October, they partnered with an Indianapolis clothing line to launch an abstract design for the fall.
“We love how it’s got a pop art feel,” said Sims, referring to the vibrant artwork adorning the back of one of the sweatshirts for sale.
Drawn together by design
Robert-Eze and Sims, from Indianapolis and Gary, Indiana, respectively, are studying urban planning in the College of Architecture and Planning. Their mutual love of design is what drove them to go into business together.
“We think exactly alike,” said Sims, “and have since we met.”
In the future, the students want to parlay their experience as business partners into co-owning an architectural firm that’s as socially conscious as their clothing line.
“We’ll have a mission and encourage employees to do community service,” Robert-Eze said. “Both of us come from low-income communities, so we’d love for our firm to design for people living in those areas. We know them well and feel we can fill that gap.”
Sims added, “As a Gary native, I feel it is imperative for me to dedicate projects to revitalizing the city. The city is beautiful, with so much potential and improvements, and I would like to have a role in bringing the city back.”
In the short term, their ambitions are centered on schoolwork and devoting what spare time they have to 2eze Apparel, which includes selling merchandise every Tuesday and Thursday in the Atrium.
“At first, we did it for family and friends,” Robert-Eze said. “But after we saw how fast the logo and idea caught on, it was like, how can we blow this up?”
A buzz builds on campus
One of their early fans is Jasmyne Cameron, a junior majoring in sport administration with a minor in marketing. She met Sims their sophomore year and has supported her friend ever since he told her about his business idea.
“2eze … it’s catchy, and I like wearing something that promotes a good cause,” she said. “I’m proud of these guys because they’re so driven. They had an idea and instead of just talking about it, they put it into action.”
Through a promotional campaign bolstered through word of mouth and social media posts, Sims and Robert-Eze have seen their brand take off. Nowadays, a walk through campus brings them the joy of multiple sightings of peers sporting 2eze clothing. “The first time it happened, I had the biggest smile on my face,” Robert-Eze said.
The pair also have faculty supporting their commitment to becoming socially minded entrepreneurs. Olon Dotson, an associate professor of architecture, said: “I believe some of the greatest entrepreneurial ideas originate from a simple introduction, conversation or friendship developed over the sharing of space — in this instance, an academic space. With respect to Josh and Nate, this is definitely the case.”
Duo eager to pay it forward
As Robert-Eze and Sims look ahead to graduation, they hope to hire Ball State students who can help them carry on the message behind 2eze Apparel — one that includes giving back to the community.
“We’ve volunteered at MOM (Motivate Our Minds, which helps area youth succeed in education and society) and participated in workshops and after-school programs for kids wanting to know more about higher education and entrepreneurship,” Sims said. “We also visited the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility to talk to young men there. Instead of them listening and learning from us, we ended up learning from them.”
At the end of the day, he added, “We want to connect with everybody. We’re not geared toward one nationality or race. That’s where our message of unity comes in.”