When Elijah Rutland began customizing shoes, he never thought his hobby would lead to bigger opportunities such as designing his own “Beats by Dre” or having his art featured at the Superbowl.
From a young age Rutland loved creating art. In elementary school he recalls not being able to get the popular sneakers he wanted and instead drawing them and showing them to his friends and family. As a sophomore in high school, he saw someone paint on a pair of shoes for the first time and that pushed his passion for shoes and art to the next level.
“That was my way of having shoes without actually physically having them and then that continued to the tenth grade when I actually saw someone paint a pair of shoes for the first time and I thought that was the coolest thing,” Rutland said. “I went to Good Will to buy some shoes and to Walmart and bought some paint and started there and overtime it just evolved.”
Following the creation of his brand Fix My Sole, he decided that in addition to customizing sneakers, he also wanted to do commissioned illustrations and paintings, create his own apparel, and even sell a curated selection of vintage FAMU pieces.
Since he officially started Fix My Sole at the age of 15, Rutland had no prior work experience and was unsure if he would really be able to turn his hobby into a business. However, having two entrepreneur parents, they helped him learn how he can make his passion a career.
Rutland had to go through a lot of steppingstones to build his brand to where it is today. He remembers the first custom pair of sneakers he painted sold for only $35, at a loss. After making his first sale he realized the potential in painting shoes and how he could make it profitable.
“Overall, it feels good that people want to buy my work and that people are actually interested in it,” Rutland said. “I think when I started, that was something that I struggled with. I didn’t know whether people would be interested in the work that I did or my voice that I use through my art, but it definitely feels good. At times it can be overwhelming dealing with school and still trying to keep everything on the business side intact but it’s definitely a great feeling.”
Rutland came early to FAMU to begin practicing for the Marching 100 and one day he got a call from his dad saying he wanted to take him to the Florida Small Business Development Center at FAMU to speak with a business consultant. There he met with Emery Parker and discussed what stage he was at with his business and some of the struggles he was facing.
“I think Mrs. Emery was the first person I talked to, and you know my dad is a great salesman, so he was just explaining to her my business and everything I was doing at the time,” Rutland said. “I didn’t even have a website actually so that was the first thing I got from the SBDC. I just explained what I was looking for and wanted and either that same week or the next week we set up a meeting with a web developer and got started on everything to get the website going.”
Since then, Fix My Sole has experienced exponential growth and been recognized nationally and internationally in the art and entertainment industry. Elijah also had his art displayed at the 2021 NBA All-Star Game festivities as well as an exhibit at the 2020 Super Bowl LV Experience.
In addition to these accomplishments, Elijah has been featured in several media outlets such as Complex, Essence.com, GQ.com, Buzzfeed News, to name a few. He has also collaborated with celebrities and public figures including R&B singer, K. Michelle, Chance the Rapper, and social media influencer, Demetrious Harmon.
One of Rutland’s proudest moments was the opportunity to design the “2021 Black History Month Beats by Dre”. Rutland said he recalled clicking through Instagram stories one day and he happened to stop on American sports pundit and former professional football player Shannon Sharpe’s story where he was unboxing the headphones that he had designed.
Elijah attributes much of his success to the consulting services he received from the FSBDC at FAMU.
“I was very satisfied with the services I received from the SBDC, it was really the start of the professional side of my business,” Rutland said. “I would recommend them to other business owners because I think one of the best parts of the center is that they met me where I was at the time because before I had never had a consultation with a business development center like this or even with a web developer and everybody they brought in, all the staff and everybody I met, they’re really genuine and passionate with how they helped and it felt like they were personally invested in making sure I got the best service and the best help possible.”
Now preparing to graduate, Rutland has several options lined up to choose from. After interning with Warner Brothers and working with Netflix on the show, “Green Eggs and Ham”, he has charted a path to success and is looking for more opportunities to create art to be shared with the world.
Rutland encourages others who aren’t sure if they want to pursue their hobbies as a career to take the chance and to use the services the Florida SBDC at FAMU offers for small business owners at no cost.
“I would definitely recommend any FAMU students, the younger the better because you have more time, but I think a lot of people don’t know that these services are available,” Rutland said. “Especially now in our current generation people are aspiring to be entrepreneurs but this is a good way to set yourself apart with services that are readily available with the people that are here to help you and make those things happen.”