Etu Evans

Education: 1992 graduate of S.C. State University; 1996 graduate of Columbia University with masters in Applied Behavioral Psychology; 2000 graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology with an associate’s degree

The fashion industry calls Etu Evans one of the world’s up-and-coming shoe designers, adding his $2,500-a-pair boots could one day land him among industry heavyweights such as Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo. But during the fall of 1982, when he was a middle school student in Orangeburg, Evans’ teachers told his mother not to expect too much from him. The underachieving student, who rarely spoke up in class, belonged on a track for slow learners, they said. “They thought something was wrong with him,” said Queen Ester Evans, his maternal grandmother. “But I knew that he could do anything. And I knew God had plans for him. . . . They just didn’t understand him.” Evans, now 34, says his grandmother’s independent mind and unfailing belief in the power of self changed his fate. Evans says his grandmother kept telling him he had “a big mind” and would do great things one day. Evans has — both in and out of school.

After graduating from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School in 1988, Evans went on to graduate from S.C. State University with honors. He then earned a master’s degree from Columbia University. His business of custom-designing shoes could someday make him a household name. “There are a lot of gifted, artistic kids here in the South, but they’re misunderstood,” said Evans, whose master’s degree is in applied behavioral psychology.

Confidence wasn’t the only thing Etu Evans learned from his grandmother. Queen Evans was a social butterfly. She always had someplace to go, and it meant spending hours getting ready. At 12, Etu Evans sat at the foot of her bed. His grandmother would ask Evans for input on her outfits and accessories. That’s where Evans fell in love with jewelry and shoes. Queen Evans says young Etu was inquisitive and “wanted to know everything.” “So I gave him some of my old jewelry and things, and he would fix them up and do all sorts of things with them. ” Thus, a designer was born. But first Evans would turn another of his grandmother’s passions – flowers – into a business. At 16, Evans was creating elaborate floral arrangements from his grandmother’s garden, and word of mouth soon had him earning hundreds of dollars for his designs. It helped him pay for school at S.C. State.

Once college was over, Evans found he needed an outlet for his creative side. So he decided to put aside a teaching job in Upstate New York and study shoe design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. He launched a shoe line as a student in 1998 and graduated in 2000. All the while, he ran a shoe repair shop in Harlem that became a custom-design business. Evans’ one-of-a-kind offerings soon began attracting celebrities including Tyra Banks and Halle Berry. His boots began selling for more than $2,500 a pair. Evans is known for dramatic designs, such as his cockatoo boot inspired by the exotic bird, and pumps that tie up with faux barbed wire that wind up the leg and past the knee.

When not working to expand his business, Evans is raising money and soliciting shoe donations for his foundation, Solesville. The foundation gives refurbished shoes to inner-city residents seeking their first jobs. It also ships shoes to young adults in the Caribbean and Africa. “Looking good is important,” says Evans, who wears a starched white shirt and shined shoes, just as his grandmother taught him to do as a child. “I learned that lesson a long time ago.”