Georgia native Elijah Rutland, 23, has reason to celebrate given his recent graduation from Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, where he majored in graphic engineering.
But there’s a lot more for which this talented artist and budding entrepreneur can also be proud – from securing deals with Nike, Beats by Dre and Xfinity to his latest coup – being named National Brand Ambassador for the Pohanka Automotive Group.
In his role with Pohanka, Rutland will collaborate with the corporation’s leadership to generate content on social media for increased brand awareness – doing something that he’s done for as long as he can remember – creating.
“I’ve been drawing for my entire life and use my art to say things that I probably wouldn’t say out loud,” he said. “With art, I’m able to create a visual representation of my thoughts – now I can do that on an even larger scale in my new relationship with Pohanka.”
Rutland paused and chuckled – explaining that his unplanned laughter came after remembering that he had received the news about being chosen to represent Pohanka just days before graduation earlier this year in April. And then being further surprised with a gift – a brand new automobile.
“The car was the best news of all because I had been getting around with a 2008 Ford Edge and it had a lot of miles on it,” he added. “It came at exactly the right time.”
Pohanka, one of the oldest automobile dealerships in the nation with over 20 locations throughout the Greater Washington Area and Texas, has partnered with Rutland in efforts to establish stronger relationships with their customers.
“[We] are always looking for unique and innovative ways to connect with our customers and Elijah is an extremely talented young man who brings a fresh, creative perspective to everything he does,” said Dani Hart, chief marketing officer for Pohanka.
On Sunday, Aug. 21, officials from Pohanka joined a crowd of several hundred “sneakerheads” to watch Rutland create a stunning design using a pair of black and white sneakers as his canvas during the final day of Sneaker Con. His design, accented with shades of red, complimented one of Pohanka’s cars on display next to Rutland’s booth while illustrating the young man’s artistic ingenuity and aplomb.
Sneaker Con, a highly-popular touring event, which during its last stop in the District in 2019, drew more than 10,000 people, allows patrons to buy, sell, trade or view the crème de la crème of sneakers.
After a two-absence due to the pandemic, Sneaker Con returned this year to the Washington Convention Center in Northwest with lines that stretched out of the building and around the corner.
Passion Serves as Fuel for the Novice Businessman
Rutland, who said he’s always loved to paint, began to work with sneakers as his canvas during the summer of 2014 before he entered the 10th grade. He said his rationale was simple.
“I wanted to make some money so I could buy new shoes,” he said. “My parents were frugal when we were growing up and designer tennis shoes were not an option. My dad once told me I should focus on owning stock in tennis shoe companies instead of being consumed with wearing them.”
Not to be deterred, Rutland finally convinced his father to buy him a pair of used sneakers from Goodwill and some paint from Walmart, at a cost of $3 and $10, respectively. He customized the shoes, posted them on social media and said his business just took off.
However, he acknowledged that he has a lot to learn as he seeks to develop and secure his brand and make a name for himself and his artistry. But along the way, he said he wants to have fun and enjoy the ride.
Working with his manager, Rock Newman, who grew up in Maryland, matriculated at Howard University and has established himself as a producer, promoter and agent both in the District and across the U.S., Rutland said he has learned the importance of surrounding himself with positive-minded people.
“Rock has helped me amplify a lot of the things that I have been thinking about and now I’ve started to put some of those ideas into action,” he said. “He has a wealth of knowledge, a rolodex of contacts and has become a mentor, which for a young Black man like me is really important.”
“Now, it’s all about being in the right rooms with the right people. But the hardest part is done – the execution and the body of work – so, when I get in those rooms, I now have something to show.”
Dreams Can Come True — With Perseverance
Rutland said he’s only begun to realize his full potential and while he’s grateful for the opportunities that have come his way, he said he just wants to keep growing, keep creating and perhaps even be able to inspire other youth to go after their own dreams.
One childhood dream came true during his recent visit to the District which still amazes him.
“While I was in D.C., I met with Dr. Frederick, the president of Howard University and Phylicia Rashad, the actress who is now also the dean of Howard’s College of Fine Arts,” he said.
“Dr. Frederick is so impressive and brilliant. And meeting Ms. Rashad – wow – I used to watch her on The Cosby Show and wonder what it must be like to have such talent and beauty. I never imagined sitting with people like them and having them actually be interested in who I am, what I do – talking with me about my business ideas,” said Rutland before saying he had to go.
For more information about Elijah Rutland, visit him on all social media outlets at fixmysole.com.
Editor’s Note: Rutland ended our conversation because he had to prepare for a visit to his alma mater, FAMU, as part of his next business venture – an 11-city tour of HBCUs for whom he will create 11 unique murals that capture “the essence of each university.”