The idea started in Inglewood, California. D’Wayne Edwards saw Michael Jordan flying through the air in stylish shoes and thought ‘I want to do that for a living.’
Many years later, the former Nike shoe designer, Edwards has now created the first shoe design school ever, Pensole Footwear Design Academy. His latest push is to get more African American students interested in footwear design.‘The original root of the problem is the position of shoe designer is not looked at as a job,” said Edwards. “Parents don’t really look at it as a viable source of income for their children, so it isn’t something that is encouraged.”
Edwards own story is proof that something like this is possible. Growing up, there weren’t any design schools that specialized in shoes, and his teachers didn’t help, even telling him to join the military in order to look for better opportunities. After getting a job as a file clerk for the shoe company L.A. Gear, he kept showing his own shoe designs until finally, at the tender age of 19, he got a job as the youngest shoe designer in the industry.
Before the Pensole Academy, most footwear designers came from similar professional backgrounds, like architecture or engineering. Former Pensole student Aric Armon was the same, having studied industrial design at the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco. Although he had a passion for shoes, it wasn’t until a friend suggested he enter a Pensole shoe design contest that he really considered it an option. Now having won that contest and completed a session at Pensole, Armon is working as a footwear designer for Adidas in Portland.
“I think that it’s something that’s underrepresented,” says Armon about African Americans like himself in design. “There are not a lot of African Americans that go to school for industrial design since many don’t know it’s an option. It’s good to have that support.”
Pensole Academy is now partnering with some of the historically black colleges in the nation, as well as Portland State University, to make that vision become a reality.
“The more we make ourselves visible to the population, the more aware the black population will be that this is an option,” says Edwards.
- D’Wayne Edwards, Founder of Pensole Footwear Design Academy
- Aric Armon, Footwear Designer for Adidas
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OPB | April 16, 2015