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How a Young Entrepreneur Cobbled Together a Business By Recycling Vinyl into Shoes Paperfeet is building an eco-friendly business out of discarded billboard materials.

By Gwen Moran

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Jimmy Tomczak didn't like to don clunky shoes or sandals for his walks to the lake. He enjoyed barefooting the trip--but his gravel driveway wasn't exactly flesh-friendly. Though he was attracted to minimalist footwear like Vibram's FiveFingers line (glove-like shoes that simulate the barefoot experience), the hundred bucks a pair price tag was too high for the University of Michigan student's budget.

So Tomczak began fashioning homemade sandals from things he found around the house. An eBay seller, he tried using a Tyvek FedEx envelope for an early model. Though the shoe was lightweight, it didn't offer much sole protection.

Tomczak continued his quest to create an inexpensive, light shoe. Still in school and supporting himself through odd jobs, he stumbled onto his shoe material of choice while working a roof repair job. A contractor acquaintance suggested that instead of laying down $200 to $300 for a tarp, Tomczak contact local billboard advertising companies and ask them for their leftover vinyl. He did, and scored a McDonald's sweet tea billboard for $20.

"When I took the vinyl down [after finishing the roofing job], it was still good--and that was after six months flopping around in a Michigan winter," he says. "I realized that material was exactly what I was looking for." The eco-bonus: Repurposing used or discarded billboard vinyl keeps the material out of landfills.

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