Eric Conner's sneaker business is still in its infancy but he already counts Justin Timberlake as a client.
The 20-year-old student at New York City's Baruch College launched his company, Econn Customs, out of his parents' basement, where he deconstructs -- and reconstructs -- Nike and other brand-name footwear to make and market one-of-a-kind designs.
Conner scours consignment stores for authentic designer pieces, from Louis Vuitton to Goyard, and chops up the fabric to make custom footwear geared to the celebrity set. That approach required covering his legal bases before using other companies' logos in his designs.
"I talked to a few patent lawyers. I am using authentic materials so it's not infringing their rights. I am taking bags and repurposing them, and I am not making any of the same products that they make," he said
Like riding a bike
The self-taught sneaker rehabilitator began by repairing worn-out kicks.
"I already knew how to take apart sneakers and rebuild them, so I took that skill and put it into making sneakers with luxury materials," he said.
Conner is a perfectionist, too. He spent three years honing his craft before beginning to sell his own designs. "Once you learn all the stitch patterns, it just becomes like riding a bike -- you don't forget," he said.
Conner stays on top of trends, but pays closer attention to what his customers say they want. "When I first started, snakeskin was popular, but then I started buying designer fabrics because that was what people liked."
He's setting his sights high: "I am trying to get it where I am one of the people celebs will always call for custom-made stuff when they go and do shows -- famous actors and actresses come to me to get stuff they wear on stage and expand to open up a store."
Ultimately, he hopes to establish formal partnerships with brands for his shoes, which sell for $300 to $700. "My plan right now is marketing with bigger brands and trying to get actual collaborations with them," he said.
The most rewarding part of his job, though, is still seeing the finished product. "I always find it fun to piece everything together. It's really cool to see an idea that you have just come to life."
His Instagram account drives most of the traffic to his website, Sneakerhospital.com, where his designs are for sale.
The key to his fledgling success as an entrepreneur? Patience.
"You have to wait and be patient with everything because it's not going to come overnight," he said. "It was a lot of hard work and countless hours that I can't even count up anymore," he said.
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