Everyone knew early on that Elijah Rutland was a child of few words. Now, the Atlanta-born, Macon-raised 2022 Florida A&M University graduate is a self-made artist and visionary behind Fix My Sole, which deals in everything from apparel design to creative direction.
While collaborating with companies such as Nike, the NFL and BET, which place a strong focus on networking for mobility, Rutland says he lets his art work speak for him.
“Back then he was very, very quiet,” said Edna Rutland, a FAMU alumna and younger sister of Elijah. “But, he has always been into art. I think that’s always been his way of expressing himself.”
As a child, Rutland explained how he hid behind his mother’s leg when asked to greet new faces. He noticed early on that speaking was a challenge, compared to his sister who was very outgoing.
When Rutland came to the Florida A&M University campus, he found out how FAMU’s culture was similar to his childhood church experiences: “On campus, for pre-drill, and even being in the band, it’s a social environment. One thing that helped was that I was taller than everybody I met, so people just noticed me. I don’t always have to make the first move when talking to people,” Rutland said.
His height wasn’t the only thing the other students noticed. During his orientation, his appearance created a persona for him.
“I had a jean jacket and shoes I had painted. Literally, as soon as I got there, my orientation leader, who knew me from high school, started asking about my jacket, and it became a whole little thing,” Rutland said.
Little did he know, it would change his life.
To make this happen, Rutland had to go through a few changes. He stopped playing trumpet in the band and changed his major to graphic design.
His major was not the only significant change he was going through, as dorm life proved a challenge for creating. Rutland had to find new ways to create.
“I just painted in my room, and when I finished, I would take all my shoes down to put in finishing spray or take pictures,” Rutland said. “People would always stop me and ask, ‘What are you doing?’”
As Rutland worked to promote his shoe customization and artwork, those around him started to notice. “It would be a bunch of people in the breezeway, and people would keep seeing it or stop me and be like, ‘Why are you carrying these 24 by 36 canvases to your room?'”said Rutland, and these questions not only brought customers but also admirers and friends.
Rutland began to build a reputation as the friendly artist-in-residence, and it is exactly what he hoped for.
“Because going outside was something I always did, I wasn’t always social, but I was also strategic. It was a way to get customers,” Rutland said. “I wanted to be social, and I couldn’t be social at Potbellys. I wanted to be comfortable.”
For many college students, the clubbing experience is uncomfortable for many reasons: loud music, closed spaces, substance use, and these small elements of college life aren’t seen as a fun Friday activity but as a source of anxiety.
Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, and many other forms of social anxiety are believed to affect 75% of the population, according to the University of Florida.
Rutland found himself uncomfortable in certain settings but was never uncomfortable talking about his work.
“These interactions are how you meet people, people I still know to this day,” Rutland said.
Being known for his work helped him become comfortable with who he was as an artist and as a student. Now a graduate of FAMU, Rutland looks back fondly on how the school’s focus on networking has helped him become the creative he is today.
“FAMU is still big in what I do, but over the course of time, meeting other Black people from HBCUs and in general, I got a lot of followers when those viral moments happened; more people remember me from when I was spraying shoes outside the village. That’s when my image was cemented,” Rutland said.
“As he grew more into his art and business, ‘Fix My Sole’ really started to emerge. His art spoke for him and continues to,” says Edna Rutland. From watching Elijah grow herself, Edna is a proud younger sister.
As a man of few words, images and creation became Rutland’s mouthpiece. As a child afraid to speak to a man who created his own business on speaking without words, Elijah Rutland took on the challenge of a social school with a creative twist. Successful graduates like Rutland serve as reminders to students everywhere that success does not only look one way but can be made to your own design.
Rutland’s work can be purchased through FixMySole.com or viewed at @Fixmysole on Instagram.