Akio Evans remembers his family being evicted from their apartment when he was a child. He could only take what he could carry, so the young boy chose to leave his comic books behind.
Now, the Baltimore native creates comic book apparel for customers – and even for the production crew of the new Disney+ Marvel show “Ironheart.”
“I’m tapping back into the childhood that I feel like I’ve missed,” Evans said.
Evans is the founder and artist behind AkiO’s Art, an apparel brand with various designs focused on Baltimore, Black history, and superheroes. His website includes two collections: The BMORE LUV Collection and AkiO’s Glorious Heroes Shop.
Evans announced his new work for the “Ironheart” series on his Instagram on Nov. 21. He created shoes for the show’s crew members, with the footwear depicting comic book-style art of the titular character.
Dominique Thorne played technological prodigy Riri Williams, also known as Ironheart, in the new “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” film. She will reprise her role as the lead in the new “Ironheart” series, scheduled to premiere on Disney+ in 2023.
Thorne did not respond to Baltimore Fishbowl’s request for comment before publication.
On Aug. 28, 2020, Evans intended to drop a Black Panther collection as his first superhero. But that same day, “Black Panther” film star Chadwick Boseman died and Evans decided to refrain from releasing the collection.
“I don’t like to like ride trends and ride waves,” Evans said.
Instead, Evans pivoted to a new superhero for his first collection: Meteor Man, a teacher who gains superhero powers after being struck by a meteor.
Evans chose Meteor Man for the subject of his collection because of a Baltimore connection; although Meteor Man’s story is set in Washington, D.C., the 1993 film starring Robert Townsend was filmed in Baltimore’s Reservoir Hill neighborhood.
“And why not actually commemorate Baltimore,” Evans said.
Much of AkiO’s Art commemorates Evans’ mother. All his sweatshirt and top apparel products have his AkiO’s Art logo over the left chest to signify her death by a heart attack. The name “AkiO’s Glorious Heroes” comes from her name, Glorious, and how his mother got him interested in comic books.
“You can just actually carve your own lane and that’s what represents AkiO’s Glorious Heroes. It represents being your own hero,” Evans said.
The capital “O” in his logo is script, to match the Baltimore Orioles logo and celebrate the Orioles as local heroes.
“The ‘O’ is for being your own hero or celebrating our own heroes, and not just celebrities,” Evans said.
For many in Baltimore’s creative community, Evans’ success has been a hopeful light.
She-Ra Watkins remembers learning about Evans 20 years ago when she was in high school and he was making custom clothes in Baltimore. About five years later, she ran into him on a bus.
Watkins remembers Evans giving her positive words and described him as humble in a city that she described as having a lot of negativity. Even today, when Watkins gets products from Evans, he still offers encouragement.
“Baltimore is like a dark city when it comes to certain neighborhoods, and Akio is that person who really inspires people through his art,” Watkins said.
Watkins, who is a mother and author in Baltimore, said that every time she has seen Akio for the past 20 years, he has been doing the same thing: making clothes.
“He is the ball of light of Baltimore City, and that’s someone who needs to be put out in the front for other people coming behind him, especially children,” she said.
In 2019, Evans partnered with the founder of Bmore Soleful, a program created to motivate students, to give free shoes to students whose GPAs went up, according to an Instagram post.
Evans also visits schools, where he talks with students about his criminal history and how he was able to turn himself around.
“I used to be ashamed of it. But that’s the same story that, when I go to schools, the principal is like ‘no, please share that story,’” Evans said.
Evans has created pieces for celebrities like Dr. Dre, Will Smith, and Dave Chappelle, among others.
Baltimore painter, photographer and videographer Alphonso Smith Jr. said seeing Evans work with big names has inspired him
“A lot of time seeing these people, you see them from afar,” Smith said. “But he [Evans] seems like a bridge and is connecting people to the greater entertainment industry.”
What sets Evans’ work apart from other artists is how directly his art reflects the city, Smith said.
“His work is not necessarily up for interpretation; it means what it means,” Smith said. “It’s bold, it makes a statement, and it is just creative in a way that he can commemorate different movies and times and aspects of the culture that usually don’t get highlighted.”
Smith added that Evans shows Baltimoreans that they can succeed beyond expectations.
“Sometimes you don’t think … that people even will appreciate artistic energy or culture coming out of Baltimore in the first place, but he shows you that all of those things are possible, plus more,” Smith said.