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DURHAM — Ari Zandman-Zeman has always known he wanted to be an entrepreneur. He just didn’t know what kind of business he wanted to build.
Zandman-Zeman has played Division I college basketball for the University of Northern Colorado, where he majored in business with a focus on entrepreneurship. He has also worked on grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, and he has been a field coordinator for a senatorial race in Alaska.
But it was in the eastern Caribbean and the fields of an indigenous coffee cooperative in Guatemala that he found his calling.
After college, Zandman-Zeman had set off for the Caribbean nation St. Vincent and the Grenadines to teach English for the Peace Corps.
Far away from home and without the heavy weight training equipment he had been using for years, Zandman-Zeman had packed a simple set of exercise bands he ordered online and slowly began developing his personal fitness routine with the bands.
“The idea was borne out of necessity,” he said. “I had to work out with whatever was available.”
Later, when he was working on an indigenous coffee cooperative in Guatemala, his Italian cohorts encouraged him to further develop the enterprise.
That was the start of Rubberbanditz, a line of exercise bands and accessories that Zandman-Zeman launched this past week and which he hopes will one day revolutionize the exercise industry.
The core concept behind the bands is one of do-it-yourself efficiency and flexibility that fosters creativity. Users aren’t boxed into any one routine and can mix the bands and accessories for different motions.
Zandman-Zeman hopes that as more people become acquainted with the bands, they can form groups and get together to build their own exercise regimens.
The basic package of Rubberbanditz includes two small bands, one longer band, a door jam, two carabiners, two soft hand grips, a travel bag, an exercise DVD and manual.
At his apartment on West Trinity Avenue, which also doubles as his office for now, Zandman-Zeman demonstrated how the equipment could be used in confined spaces by looping a band through a door jam. The bands can also be wrapped around chairs, table legs and even palm trees — as Zandman-Zeman showed in an online video filmed in Guatemala.
The advantage the bands have over weights is not only their lightness and portability, Zandman-Zeman said. Weights rely on gravity and users have less control of their movements, which could lead to injuries.
To get more strength from weight-training, users also have to add more weights, whereas with bands, the strength could be adjusted by increasing the band’s length and tension via simply looping the band around your foot or any other anchor point.
The bands can be used for strength training, toning, core stabilization and stretching, Zandman-Zeman said.
“I want people to divorce the idea of exercising in a studio, of following a trainer — The ‘one, two, three, follow me,’ kind of thing,” he said.
Zandman-Zeman’s environmentalism background and work in rural communities in Third World countries are also being continued through his new business. Rubberbanditz will have a “triple bottom line,” according to Zandman-Zeman.
He has set up an agreement with the Scrap Exchange for customers to recycle all bands there, and the business will also put a portion of proceeds toward developing exercise band gyms in rural areas in Third World countries, where Zandman-Zeman said there is a need for nutrition and exercise education. And finally, the business is financially independent. Zandman-Zeman started it with no loan and put $6,000 of his own money into it.
While living in his home state in Alaska last year, Zandman-Zeman and fiancée Shiran Zohan saved every penny they earned for the big launch. Zohan, who is studying law at Duke University, has also chipped in by shooting and editing videos and writing for the Web site.
In two to four years, Zandman-Zeman hopes to open retail locations for Rubberbanditz. For now, he is selling the packages through a Web site and demonstrating their uses at various locations around town.
“It’s just me and my keyboard against the world,” he said.
“I like the feel of having personal relationships with your customers and being able to change course based on your gut,” Zandman-Zeman said. “I’m not one that’s motivated by money. I like the flexibility and the ability to focus on my heart.”