Fostering the Future Generations of Footwear Designers

Innovation can start with a №2 pencil. D’wayne Edwards has 20+ years of experience in footwear design industry and he founded PENSOLE footwear Design Academy to give opportunity to young designers to jump into the industry.

Innovate Pasadena (IP): Can you share a little about your background in footwear design?

D’wayne Edwards (DE): I grew up in Inglewood, California,in the heart of South Central Los Angeles. I was introduced to a №2 pencil at a very young age. I drew my first shoe with one when I was eleven. At the age of 17, I won a Reebok design competition, beating out professionals and college students nationwide. At that moment I knew my dream of becoming a footwear designer could come true. I spent the rest of my senior year drawing shoes everyday and the last one I drew was the AIR JORDAN 2.

I was fortunate to get a job as a file clerk with L.A. Gear. They set up suggestion boxes in every department where employees could submit ideas to make the company better. I knew this was my chance, so for the next six months, everyday, I put a sketch of a new shoe in that box.

And my suggestion each day was to hire me as a footwear designer.

After 6 months and 180 sketches later, I was offered my first design job, making me — at age 19 — the youngest professional footwear design in the industry. Since then, I’ve designed for Karl Kani Footwear. I launched my own brand, SITY by Skechers. I also fulfilled a lifelong dream and began working at Nike where I designed Goadome 2. As fate would have it, my first basketball project (Nu Retro 2) in JORDAN was to redesign the last shoe I drew in high school: the AIR JORDAN 2.

IP: Can you tell us about your company, PENSOLE?

DE: Growing up in a single-parent home with four brothers and a sister, there was no money for design school. Nor were there local schools that offer a program in footwear design. At that moment, I first had an idea that I would start my own footwear design school.

In 2010 I launched PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy, through the University of Oregon, to give 40 young design students from around the world — regardless of socioeconomic background — an opportunity to learn from the industry’s best,without financial barriers. The program was wildly successful. We established similar partnerships with Parsons The New School for Design (New York) and ArtCenter College of Design (Pasadena, CA), and I traveled to those schools with my PENSOLE curriculum and pedigreed instructors from Nike, JORDAN and many other major brands.

Founded as a footwear design “master class” the industry can hire from directly, PENSOLE is what I like to call: “the school I wish I could have attended.” The curriculum is currently offered in intensive two-, three-and four-week programs in which students are in class up to 14 hours a day. The format resembles a footwear design boot camp,where students earn the same credits as a full 16-week semester.

PENSOLE’s “learn by doing” curriculum teaches students the entire footwear design process: inspiration, concept-development, design process, problem solving, materials, prototyping, marketing, business, networking and branding.

IP: When did you first discover ArtCenter and what is the current relationship with ArtCenter and PENSOLE?

DE: I first discovered ArtCenter around 2000 when I joined Nike and started working with designers who attended the school. Around 2007, I brought my design team to visit the campus, which was also my first time visiting. In 2010, I decided to launch the first PENSOLE class and I reconnected with Karen Hofmann and ArtCenter. We co-created a workshop together in 2011. For the past nine years, a group of ArtCenter students have come up to Portland for our workshop, with several of those students going on to secure jobs within the footwear industry.

IP: What does having honorary degree from ArtCenter mean to you?

DE: Words cannot describe it for a few reasons. One, I know my mother would be proud to see what I have been able to accomplish in my career, and even though she was not there in a physical form, I know she was there!

Another is, as a kid from Inglewood (only 20 miles away), who was too poor to attend college, but who was ultimately chosen by the top (design) college to be part of the ArtCenter family, is extremely humbling, and I am at a loss for words.

Lastly, I pray my journey will inspire others who grow up in areas like I did to know they should dream bigger because all things are possible.

IP: After your graduation speech, you gave a card to all of the ArtCenter graduates. Can you tell us what the card said?

DE: The card said,

“> Believe in yourself — in the power you have to control your own life, day to day.
> Believe in the strength that you have deep inside, and your faith will help show you the way.
> Believe in tomorrow and what it will bring, let a hopeful heart carry you through.
> Things will work out if you trust and believe — there’s no limit to what you can do!”

IP: Five years from now, what do you think (or hope) will have changed in the design industry?

DE: I pray that companies who rely on consumers of color provide them more opportunities besides a product to buy. What I mean by this is the overall design industry has a diversity problem, and I hope within five years this is no longer a conversation, and our industry puts together programs to ensure they create more diverse design teams.


To learn more about PENSOLE, please visit the website. D’wayne Edwards speech at ArtCenter Spring 2019 Graduation Ceremony can be viewed here. Special thanks to ArtCenter and John McIsaac for coordinating, and D’wayne Edwards for sharing his story with us.