February 23, 2007

C.U. Business Profits on Leather

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“I think about my company 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I take breaks to think about everything else,” said Aaron Arlinghaus ’07 about balancing co-ownership of his company, Arlinghaus Leather, with track team obligations and an Ivy League education.

Beginning his freshman year, Arlinghaus, a biology major, was convinced he had “come to Cornell to run.” As a veteran of a serious high school track team, the Ohio native believed his four years in Ithaca would consist of little more than running and homework.

What began for him as a summer track camp joke, however, turned into what Arlinghaus hopes will one day become his fortune.

Inspired by a running buddy’s torn up sneakers, Arlinghaus created the “shandal,” a cut-up and redesigned sneaker-sandal with a semblance falling somewhere between the two. He took the idea so far as to meet with a patent attorney during a high school project for a “crash course” on patents and trademarks.

Arriving on campus a few months later with ambition on his mind and shandals on his feet, Arlinghaus began wearing his creations around campus and attracting considerable attention. It was not until he crossed paths with an Italian master sandal maker and leather craftsman, however, that his dreams became reality. Instead of going on spring break, he worked at a vineyard for factory production of the first authentic shandal. Arlinghaus ended up with a pair of original leather shandals that would set the stage for a prolific future.

Continuing to work closely with the craftsman through this past summer, Arlinghaus expanded his creative repertoire to include handmade leather belts, bags, cuffs and caps. His pieces caught on among close friends and family and he began selling his custom goods. Ultimately pairing up with friend and photographer Evan Walther to expand business, Arlinghaus moved his production site from the shop to a place of his own. The team set up a company website for purchasing the three distinct lines of Arlinghaus design and purchased a new workspace this past year.

Currently working on promotion and publicity, the duo claims to be “figuring a lot of things out as [they] go along.” Though goods are currently being sold at prices that only modestly reflect the craftsmanship, prices are on their way up. Already selling at two outposts in Cleveland, Arlinghaus and Walther are looking to expand their trade. Having recently made contacts in New York City throughout Fashion Week, they are gaining business by the day.

As for local advertising, Arlinghaus Leather will have a booth at this year’s Cornell Design League spring fashion show and showcase at this year’s Minorities in Industrial Labor Relations Student Organization fashion show. Arlinghaus hopes to host a trunk show as well and has offered Slope Radio giveaways in attempts to further expand his brand.

Though his path has changed drastically since first stepping foot in Ithaca, Arlinghaus says, “It’s a very good life here, definitely.”

He will remain in Ithaca through next winter while partner Walther heads to the Big Apple to work on marketing, promotion and sales.

With great aspirations, Arlinghaus looks to graduation with leather in mind. “If I could make a living off of it, I’d be a happy man. That’s the goal.”

For more information on entrepreneurship at Cornell, visit: www.eship.cornell.edu