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DSW & Pensole: Fostering Diversity in Design

Pensole’s Dr. D’Wayne Edwards and Designer Brands’ Bill Jordan open the new JEMS by Pensole shoe factory in Somersworth, N.H.

In a world increasingly driven by innovation, creativity, and diversity, mainstream brands must seize opportunities to stay ahead of the curve. One such opportunity lies in Pensole Lewis College, the first academy in the U.S. dedicated to footwear design and the first historically Black college focused on design. This groundbreaking institution, founded by D’Wayne Edwards, presents a unique chance for brands to tap into a wealth of untapped talent and foster greater diversity within their organizations.

Pensole Lewis College is a testament to Edwards’ vision of creating a more inclusive and diverse design industry, especially within the sneaker world. As he states, “we created the culture. Without us, there is no culture.” The underrepresentation of Black talent in the design industry is a glaring issue that this institution seeks to address. By providing education, training, and opportunities for aspiring Black designers, Pensole Lewis College equips its students with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in the world of design, creatively and professionally.

The Value of Partnership

Mainstream brands can derive immense value from partnering with colleges like Pensole Lewis College. For instance, the recent collaboration between Designer Brands, DSW, and Pensole Lewis College led to the opening of the first Black-owned footwear factory in the United States, JEMS, by Pensole. This factory serves as a platform for Black designers to showcase their talents and as a source of exclusive, innovative products for DSW stores. As Bill Jordan, President of Designer Brands, notes, “when we work to advance diversity in the world of fashion brands, our business succeeds, and everyone wins.”

By supporting institutions like Pensole Lewis College, mainstream brands can reap numerous benefits:

  • Access to untapped talent: For example, collaborating with Pensole Lewis College provides brands access to a diverse pool of skilled designers who can infuse new ideas, perspectives, and styles into their products.
  • Exclusive products: By partnering with the college, brands can secure exclusive rights to sell products designed and manufactured by graduates. This provides a competitive advantage in an industry where exclusivity and differentiation are crucial.
  • Enhanced brand reputation: Associating with an institution that promotes diversity and inclusion demonstrates a brand’s commitment to social responsibility and resonates with consumers who value ethical business practices.
  • Strengthened company culture: By fostering diversity within organizations, mainstream brands create a more inclusive, innovative, and vibrant company culture, ultimately enhancing overall performance.

The #BrandRewind

Embracing diversity and inclusion in the design industry is no longer a choice, but a necessity for mainstream brands that wish to thrive in today’s competitive marketplace. By forging partnerships with trailblazing institutions like Pensole Lewis College, retail brands stand to gain not only fresh talent, innovative products, and an enhanced reputation, but also a more dynamic and inclusive company culture that drives creativity and progress. In the words of D’Wayne Edwards, “the future of design is diverse, and the future of design is now.”

About The Author

Barika Phillips Bell is the co-founder of the award winning agency,  B3 Media Solutions, a digital analytics, social research, listening (search & social), data visualization, and reporting agency. She has over 15+ years experience within social media and market research on both the brand and agency side.