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Kevin Ostromecki '16 admits it all started with a bit of bad behavior … and a lot of doodling.
The founder of Altix Clothing Co. says he has always liked to draw and wasn't shy about showing his talent off. "I've gotten in trouble for drawing all over everything since I was in kindergarten," he explains. As he got older, his doodling became more of a
"I'm not a math guy," Ostromecki confesses. "I'll build a company and talk business for days, but I can't do math. In math class, I didn't know how to do the problems on a test so I just drew all over the whole test." Ostromecki eventually made peace with math, graduating from Boyertown (Pa.) High School with a 4.0 grade point average.
During his senior year, a light bulb came on when a classmate asked him to draw on her white sneakers. Then her friends, and their friends, wanted him to draw on their shoes, too. "I was like, Hey, I could turn this into a thing," says Ostromecki. "And I kind of did."
Altix Clothing Co., a custom design shoe and clothing line, is poised to take off, but Ostromecki is trying to strategically pace the growth of his business in order to balance his supply with demand. Recently, he applied for and received an invitation to appear on
With his business sense and drive, it's easy to forget that the business management and graphic design major is still a teenager. That is, until he reminds you himself. "I'm 19. I've no idea what I'm doing," Ostromecki says. "I'm just going with it."
Downplaying his ambitions may be Ostromecki's way of keeping himself grounded. Or it could be that developing a promising start-up business while a student, Eugene L. Shirk Scholar and a member of the lacrosse team at Albright is a little overwhelming at times.
Ostromecki got rolling by picking up inexpensive white sneakers and Sharpies at Wal-Mart and Target. "I had an interest in starting a clothing brand; I had no idea what that meant," he notes. Initially, it meant a lot of research. Ostromecki reached out to five or six shoe manufacturers and picked Warrior Footwear, a Chinese manufacturer of "brand blank" sports shoes. Special fabric pens and water-proofing spray replaced the Wal-Mart markers.
The shoes are durable enough for everyday wear, but there's a limit to what they can handle. "Don't go dirt-biking in them," he warns.
Currently, Ostromecki hand-draws every shoe himself, and it's easy to see how his classroom doodling evolved into what has become his signature style. He blends edgy, geometric shapes with flowing, intricate, sometimes flowery patterns to create his unique designs, which he describes as "passionate, creative, beautiful, wild" and "500 percent original."
Doing all the drawing himself does take quite a bit of time. For a basic shoe design, he says it takes about two hours, so he can usually knock it out between classes or in the evening. But, if a customer has his own design ideas, the shoes take longer to finish, he explains.
When requested, he'll even put his designs on other items, such as skateboards and high heels. In fact, a request to customize a pair of high heels recently opened up a whole new market. "[The heels] have been a hit," says Ostromecki. To date, he has customized 350 pairs of shoes.
Customers can also see his latest clothing line, including T-shirts designed and printed by Ostromecki himself, and place orders at www.altixclothing.com, which officially launched in January 2013. "Altix" was chosen as the company's name because it represents an entity that symbolizes innovation, creativity, design and passion, he explains. The Altix logo, reminiscent of the American flag, adds a patriotic flair.
With its intricate but free-wheeling designs and company tag line of "Join the Revolution," Altix has a distinctly indie vibe. It also has a social conscience. Ostromecki dubbed his shoes "Heroshoes" and"Heroheels" because for every pair of shoes he sells,
Men's and women's custom Heroshoes run $85 each, and Heroheels $88. Also available are T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and drawstring bags.
Ostromecki chose his charity after visiting Guatemala as part of his Methodist church's mission trip. He discovered Potter's House, a Christian nonprofit organization that helps people who live in or near a massive, 40-acre garbage dump in Guatemala City (www.pottershouse.org). It's one of the largest, if not the largest, dumps in Latin America, with more than 11,000 impoverished people surviving on what they can scavenge. "It's horrible. It's hell," says Ostromecki, shaking his head.
Experiencing this ugly reality first-hand had a profound effect on Ostromecki, who decided to link his business to the relief efforts. Potter's House is now the official charity of Altix. "The whole point of Altix is to 'do good,'" he says. "I want there to be depth and meaning, and not just have another little brand. I think that's why Altix is sticking."
"The whole point of Altix is to 'do good.' I
Albright Lacrosse Coach Jake Plunket says while he admires Ostromecki as an entrepreneur, he is even more impressed with his efforts to help others."Kevin exemplifies everything we preach with our student-athletes at Albright College," he says. "His
Austin O'Brien '14, a fellow lacrosse player, agrees that helping people in need sets Altix apart."That to me was huge," he says. "The Guatemala thing is so cool."
O'Brien, an environmental studies major from Ithaca, N.Y., is part of a core group of Ostromecki's friends from Albright and high school that he calls his "Street Team." One of the Street Team's most important roles is to spread the word about Altix on social media, where the company has gained 1,858 Facebook "likes," 15,000 Twitter followers, 17,000 Instagram followers, and a YouTube video with more than 3,200 views.
Although some of his fellow freshmen didn't know quite what to make of his business venture, Ostromecki says he's found a lot of support on campus, in terms of both encouragement and sales."Albright's holding it down real well," he says of on-campus purchases.
"Kevin is a very determined person," says O'Brien. "He wants to go places and he wants to take his friends with him."
Ready for the Future
Ostromecki credits his parents, Walter and Arlene, for his business acumen and religious upbringing. He runs only a small part of his business out of his dorm room, so his parents house most of Ostromecki's inventory and supplies at their Gilbertsville, Pa.,
For now, he says, he plans to continue to promote the Altix clothing line at the beach, concerts, and other events with his Street Team. A line of burlap backpacks based on those he saw in Guatemala is also in the works.
Ultimately, Ostromecki foresees mass-producing a series of stock shoe and shirt designs for retail stores, while he creates customized shoes that he hopes will become hot commodities. Thinking long-term, he says, "I just want to create something, I want to follow my dreams, and I want to be happy."
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