Pensole Lewis College Detroit, Foot Locker Launch New Footwear Creation Stu/deo

Detroit has just leveled up its creative game with the debut of the Foot Locker Footwear Creation Stu/deo, a fresh initiative by Pensole Lewis College Detroit (PLC Detroit). Housed in a Bedrock property on 200 Walker Street, this design studio is a game-changer for the footwear industry, offering unmatched opportunities ranging from shoemaking workshops to small-scale production facilities.

The opening ceremony was a gathering of notable figures, including PLC Detroit’s President Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and Dan Gilbert, the chairman of Rocket Companies. Their presence highlighted the collective support for this innovative venture.

Dr. Edwards shared his excitement: “We are honored to unveil the Foot Locker Footwear Creation Stu/deo at our new campus. This space will inspire the next generation of footwear creators and design visionaries, providing them with the resources and education to excel in the industry.”

As the sole design-focused Historically Black College or University (HBCU), PLC Detroit is dedicated to empowering creative individuals to build a better future. The studio, spanning over 5,000 square feet with views of the Detroit River, is a physical manifestation of this belief.

HBCUs have always been more than just educational institutions; they are vital cultural and empowerment centers for the Black community, offering a space where students can pursue academic excellence while embracing their heritage. The creation of PLC Detroit is a monumental step in this legacy, melding the rich tradition of HBCUs with the innovative realm of design. This unique blend not only enriches the educational landscape of Detroit but also provides a crucial platform for Black creativity and expression. The collaboration with industry giants like Foot Locker to establish state-of-the-art facilities such as the Footwear Creation Studio exemplifies the significant opportunities being made accessible to PLC Detroit students. These initiatives are pivotal in positioning the college as a hub where the next generation of Black designers can flourish.

Pensole Lewis College Detroit stands out as the pioneering institution in the United States dedicated to the art of footwear design, and it holds the distinctive title of being the first historically Black college with a focus on design disciplines. Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, with his rich background as a design director at Nike’s prestigious Jordan brand, founded this college along with the Pensole Design Academy to nurture and develop the next wave of talent in the footwear industry. His mission is particularly centered on bringing more diversity into the sneaker world, creating pathways for Black talent to make their mark in the industry.

Edwards’ journey in footwear design began remarkably early; at just 17, he clinched the top spot in a Reebok design contest, outshining seasoned professionals and college students alike. His career took a serendipitous turn while working as a temporary file clerk at LA Gear, where his habit of dropping sneaker sketches into the suggestion box caught the attention of company president Robert Greenberg. This led to a pivotal meeting that launched Edwards into an assistant footwear designer position despite his lack of formal design education.

Over the ensuing thirty years, Edwards’ career trajectory took him through notable stints at Skechers and Nike, among others. His experiences, marked by the challenges he faced navigating the industry, inspired him to establish the Pensole Design Academy in Portland in 2010. This institution, specializing in footwear and functional apparel, among other areas, has established partnerships with elite educational bodies like Parsons, Harvard, and MIT, where Edwards has shared his insights. Pensole alumni have gone on to secure positions at leading brands such as Nike and Under Armour. In a significant move in 2021, Edwards revitalized his Detroit-based HBCU, rebranding it to what we know today as Pensole Lewis College Detroit of Business and Design. This was further bolstered by substantial investments from Designer Brands Inc. and Nike, totaling $5 million, aimed at fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion. Without visionaries like Edwards, one can only wonder where the aspirations for design would stand in Detroit today.

Edwards’ journey from breaking barriers in the design industry to founding PLC Detroit embodies the transformative potential of design as a career path. His leadership and experience offer an invaluable resource to the students of PLC Detroit, providing them with a direct link to industry insights and opportunities. Edwards’ commitment to nurturing talent and fostering innovation within the Black community through design is a beacon of hope and a source of inspiration for many. His efforts to debunk the myth that design is a fleeting interest with limited career prospects are crucial in redefining the narrative around design education and its significance for Black creatives.

“You have every machine that you need to make a pair of dress shoes, sneakers, or boots all in there,” Edwards said. “You don’t see it at many schools the way that we have laid it out.”

Under Edwards’ guidance, PLC Detroit is poised to become a cornerstone in the world of design education, particularly for Black students. The college’s focus on providing real-world opportunities and collaborations with industry leaders ensures that its students are not only prepared to excel academically but are also equipped with the skills and connections needed to thrive professionally. This approach is transformative, offering a new narrative where design is recognized not just as a viable career but as a field ripe with potential for innovation, leadership, and impact. By fostering an environment that values creativity, diversity, and empowerment, PLC Detroit is not only changing the landscape of design education but is also setting a new standard for what HBCUs can achieve in the 21st century.

Elliott Rodgers of Foot Locker echoed this sentiment, stating, “We’re thrilled to once again partner with PLC Detroit to foster innovation and promote diversity in design through the opening of the Foot Locker Footwear Creation Stu/deo. This space further demonstrates our commitment to invest in and provide opportunities for creatives to excel in the fashion industry.”

The founding of PLC Detroit was significantly supported by the Gilbert Family Foundation’s generous $10 million contribution over five years, reflecting a deep commitment to creating job opportunities for Detroit’s residents in burgeoning industries. Target, as a founding partner, has also played a pivotal role through its Racial Equity Action and Change (REACH) strategy. Since its revitalization in 2022, PLC Detroit has been a cradle for future designers, with hundreds of graduates already making their mark.

“If we’re able to give students that same level of equipment and technology, when they get a job, they’re already familiar with the equipment, the vendors, the software,” said Edwards.

The Foot Locker Footwear Creation Studio marks the beginning of a series of collaborative spaces PLC Detroit plans to launch with its partners in the near future.

Dr. D’Wayne Edwards revealed that the upcoming facility is an apparel creation studio, which will pay homage to Ruth Carter, a two-time Academy Award-winning costume designer, with Champion as the studio’s sponsor. This space is set to open its doors in May.

Following the launch of Carter’s studio, there will be an apparel design studio brought to life by Carhartt and MillerKnoll, dedicated to streetwear icon April Walker, scheduled to open in June. The sequence of openings will continue with a footwear design studio, a collaborative effort between Nike’s Black Community Commitment and MillerKnoll, in honor of Wilson Smith, a trailblazer as the industry’s first Black sneaker designer.

Dan Gilbert praised the initiative, saying, “Detroit is a birthplace of innovation and creation – and this spirit thrives at Pensole as they continue inspiring the next generation of creative thinkers and achievers. Dr. Edwards’ passion, experience, and love of design is unmatched. His work with innovators like Michael Jordan, Nike, and others, help PLC students become the designers of tomorrow. Today’s announcement with Foot Locker is another example of the pathways to success that Detroit’s HBCU is opening for students in our city.”

This launch not only reinforces Detroit’s role as a center of innovation but also opens new doors for future designers, giving them a platform to transform their dreams into reality in the ever-evolving world of footwear design.



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