Black leaders make up less five percent of all design industries, including in a space that is largely informed by Black culture: footwear. One bold partnership is aiming to change that.
According to a recent announcement, retail producer Designer Brands Inc, joined forces with Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design (PLC) to launch one of the first Black-owned footwear factories in the United States.
The venture comes after a $2 million investment from Design Brands, Inc. into advancing action-oriented Diversity, Equity & Inclusion through its partnership with Detroit-based PLC, the first and only Historically Black College & University (HBCU) in Michigan.
Led by PLC President Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, he’ll design the first collection to be produced by the factory.
“JEMS by PENSOLE’s opening marks a major achievement in improving representation by people of color in the footwear and design industries,” said Bill Jordan, President of Designer Brands in a news release. “We are excited to see the initial shoe designs brought to life by PLC graduates in the new factory, with the future products to be sold exclusively at DSW stores. By honoring the legacy of Black entrepreneurs, we aim to inspire future designers by providing a powerful path for educational, career and retail success. When we work to advance diversity in the world of fashion brands, our business succeeds and everyone wins.”
Named after JEMS “Jan Ernst Matzeliger,” Black footwear pioneer that revolutionized footwear manufacturing in the 1880s, JEMS aims to support underrepresented groups in their design journey.
“JEMS by PENSOLE is a firm step for promising careers for Black leaders in footwear, who as a group represent less than five percent across all design industries,” said Dr. Edwards. “With our factory now open, we’ll quickly advance PLC graduates to training for product pre-production all the way to creation of our first sneakers. Our partnership with Designer Brands and DSW makes all this possible and celebrates Black business innovators in important and meaningful ways.”
More information about the initiative can be found at www.pensolelewiscollege.com.