D’Wayne Edwards is the founder of Pensole Lewis College, the first academy in the US dedicated to footwear design, and first historically Black college in the US focused on design. Through the college and his Pensole Design Academy, Edwards, who had a 10 year stint as design director at Nike’s Jordan brand, is training the next generation of footwear talent — with a focus on diversifying the field. The designer is paving the way for more Black footwear talent to enter the sneaker industry.
Edwards and footwear go way back: at 17, he won a Reebok design competition, beating out professionals and college students. One of his first jobs was as a temp file clerk in accounts payable at the footwear brand LA Gear. He put sneaker sketches in the department’s suggestion box, and was soon called in for a meeting with company president Robert Greenberg — who jump-started his career by giving him an assistant footwear designer role, though he lacked formal training.
Over the next three decades, Edwards went on to work at Skechers and Nike. In part because of how difficult he found navigating the industry, Edwards founded Pensole Design Academy, a Portland-based school specialising in footwear, functional apparel and accessories, colour and materials, prototyping and concept making in 2010. The academy forged partnerships with some of the world’s most prestigious schools, including Parsons, Harvard and MIT, where Edwards has lectured. Pensole alumni today work at top brands including Nike and Under Armour. In 2021, Edwards reopened a Detroit HBCU as Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design.
In February, Designer Brands Inc., owner of DSW Shoe Warehouse, announced an investment of $2 million to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in partnership with Pensole. In July, Nike followed suit, announcing it would invest $3 million in the school over the next three years in hopes of building a better pipeline for Black talent.