Creator of Leather iPhone Cases Brings Global Inspiration to Work
ROGERS PARK — Loyola University grad Nathan Minnehan, creator of handmade leather journals, is a man of many sayings.
"Be strong and follow the spirit," is drawn in chalk on the wall of his studio apartment, and "dar todo por nada" — a Spanish phrase meaning "give everything for nothing" — is scrawled on the 2-by-4 holding up one side of his bedroom loft.
The proverb that means the most to Minnehan is also the slogan of his company, WalknTalk: "Get lost to find yourself."
The 24-year-old started selling hand-crafted leather journals last summer after finding he had a knack for it on a trip as an exchange student to Argentina.
He sold his first journal at a street fair in Buenos Aires.
Now he works from his seventh-floor studio apartment, which he lofted into three sections to nearly double his square footage.
His workshop table below a window with a full view of Lake Michigan — "View is vision," Minnehan said — is scattered with stacks of fresh paper, leather-working tools and a drill press.
"I'm working all the time. I don't stop," he said of the business. "But it's not work — I'm creating."
Minnehan likes to make things his own, such as his modified apartment, but he also gets help from the Amish in Ohio.
A family there owns a leather press. They cut the leather to size and ship it to Minnehan, who then hand-stitches the pieces into one of five types of journals — or into his newest product, an iPhone case called the "Czechmate."
He has a patent pending for the design of one of his journals, called the Infinity Pad, that holds sheets of paper together with a single bolt.
Minnehan studied philosophy, journalism and Spanish at Loyola University, but spent most of his time traveling, from the Czech Republic to Argentina, where he fell in love with a girl named Hope.
It was for her that he made his first journal.
Fluent in Spanish and Czech, Minnehan decided to follow his passion, but had no idea how to start a business.
Family and a business coach in Rogers Park helped him file his company with the state and work out his trademarks.
"Things are always happening, the record is always spinning," he said.
So far, he's sold 1,200 journals.
He cold-calls 20 stores a day in hopes they will agree to stock his merchandise.
To save money, he quit smoking last summer and drinks "very little," he said. He now lives mostly from the business.
Although a lot of sales happen online through his website and Etsy, Minnehan said he hops on his bike with a rucksack full of journals to sell them at his choice spot, Chicago and Wabash avenues — being sure to dress in his signature fedora, crisp shirt, black vest — and he puts an extra twist in his goatee.
Minnehan said he closed a deal with Sugardaddy's, a boutique bakery shop in Ohio, and with his hometown high school, McQuaid Jesuit, in Rochester, N.Y., which will give the journals to students on school retreats.
Minnehan lives by another saying, this one a Zen quote:
"Whatever you do, do it every day."