Skip to content

HBCU President Launches First Black-Owned Footwear Factory In The U.S.

HBCU President Launches First Black-Owned Footwear Factory In The U.S.

He’s hoping to create more diversity and inclusion in the shoe business!

Dr. D’Wayne Edwards is a veteran shoe designer, getting his start in an entry-level position with LA Gear when he was just 19-years-old, reports. Accumulating more than 50 patents over the course of his 30 years in the business, Edwards has designed more than 500 shoe styles for a host of celebrities including Snoop Dogg, Tupac, Biggie, Michael Jordan and Carmelo Anthony. His designs have been worn in six Olympic games and he is a 3x Mercedes Benz Fashion award winner. He has also received the President’s Volunteer of Service Award from President Barack Obama. 

In 2010, Edwards began his career as an educator, eventually converting the only HBCU in Michigan, Lewis College of Business, into the first academy dedicated to footwear design in the nation. He is now the President of Pensole Lewis College (PLC) of Business & Design in Detroit where he works to create diversity and inclusion in the shoe business. In his latest effort, Edwards has now made history, founding the Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio (JEMS), the first ever Black-owned footwear and shoe factory. 

JEMS is named for a Black inventor who revolutionized shoe manufacturing with his 1883 patent for the lasting machine. The factory is located in Somersworth, New Hampshire and will be used as a hub for other budding designers of color to produce their own shoes. The factory was funded by a $1 million contribution from LeCrown Shoes Industry and another $2 million investment from Designer Brands Inc., parent company of DSW. Edwards will lead the first shoe designs at the new factory while giving a platform for other burgeoning designers, who will have the opportunity for their shoes to be exclusively sold at DSW, a retailer with more than 500 stores nationwide across 44 states.  



According to Footwear News, DSW President Bill Jordan spoke about the new partnership, calling it a “major achievement,” for boosting diversity in the industry. 

“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,” said Jordan. 

For Edwards, the partnership is a unique opportunity to provide all the necessary resources to designers of colors for them to get their products into the marketplace. 

“You can design products all day long and you can find factory resources to make samples and make production. But if you don’t have a distribution partner, then your business ends up failing or not getting off the ground,” Edwards previously told reporters. 



With the new factory, he hopes to fill in those gaps, guiding his students throughout the whole process and creating a pipeline for more Black footwear designers. 

“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. 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,” said Edwards. 

To learn more about the work of Dr. Edwards and the Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design, visit their website.

Cover Photo: HBCU President launches first Black-owned footwear factory in the U.S./Photo Courtesy of @PensoleLewis/Instagram