Ryan Johnson is a self-taught leatherworker who shares that "with leather, you're making your own story."

“Leather gives me a creative outlet to make something that is designed to last forever,” Johnson said. 

In 2017, the former network engineer was looking for a creative career that required working with his hands and was sustainable for a lifetime. He discovered leather fulfilled all his requirements and then some. 

“I really got tired of having to replace wallets and belts every year, two years,” Johnson said. “And I figured out I could probably make this, I could probably make that, and I could probably make it better. And now that's what I do.”

Johnson and his wife came to Indiana on vacation in the summer of 2019. The couple knew they wanted to move away from Tempe, Arizona, due to the increasing cost of rent and found they liked central Indiana. 

“We were like, ‘yeah, it’s kind of flat, but we can get used to this,’” Johnson said. “It was time for a change.”

By 2021, Johnson moved from the desert to Anderson, where he officially established his leather company, “RJ Leatherworks.” He was just let go from his company, and he figured the time was now if he wanted to run his own business. 

Johnson found out about Ivy Tech Community College’s Garatoni School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation through the Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP), which helped pay for him to earn his certificate.

“So, I thought, OK, I’ve got a chance to figure out how to not run my business into the ground, so I’m going to take it,” Johnson said. 

Johnson enrolled in the Entrepreneurship program in August 2022, and he says in class one, he learned the most important lesson he’s learned thus far. 

“The biggest thing that I’ve learned was through a group exercise, way back in 100, the very first class, and that was: you could have the best idea in the world. But it's going to be the best idea in the world to you,” Johnson shared. “You need to gather outside information to really improve on it.”

The Garatoni School of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Ivy Tech Indianapolis helps its students at every step of the startup process, from getting an LLC to figuring out pathways to grow sales.

Johnson, who graduates from the Entrepreneurship program in May, says his favorite part about the experience is working with like-minded individuals focused on building their businesses. 

“My favorite part of the entrepreneurship program was gathering different ideas face-to-face, not only from the instructor, but from other people in the cohort, from other students, other peers, and being able to bounce ideas off of other people that are like-minded.” 

Upon completing the program, Johnson is focusing more on Business to Business (B2B) sales than consumer sales. He has since signed contracts to make merchandise for businesses like Pet Track, Boot Barn, Indiana Veterans, and more. 

“There are resources available within the program to make sure that you succeed. It’s up to you to actually take advantage of those resources,” Johnson said. 

You can learn more about the Garatoni School at ivytech.edu and by contacting Steve Thrash, department chair, at sthrash1@ivytech.edu. Learn more about RJ Leatherworks at rjleatherworks.com

“My favorite part of the Entrepreneurship Program was gathering different ideas face-to-face, not only from the instructor, but from other people in the cohort, from other students, other peers, and being able to bounce ideas off of other people that are like-minded”

– Ryan Johnson, RJ Leatherworks, owner

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.