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Breaking Barriers: The Vision Behind the First Black-Owned Shoe Factory

The JEMS by Pensole Shoe Factory: A Historic Moment

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Sneaker icon D’Wayne Edwards was inspired by this history to open the JEMS by Pensole shoe factory in Somersworth, New Hampshire on March 28. Named after Jan Ernst Matzeliger, the new facility marks the first Black-owned footwear factory in the U.S. “We wanted to honor him by naming the factory for him,” Edwards said in an interview.

Educating the Next Generation of Footwear Designers

Going forward, the vision is to establish a cohort of designers chosen from Detroit’s Lewis College for Business, the historically Black school Edwards purchased in 2020 after it shut down in 2017. These designers will learn the ropes of the industry, guided by Edwards and his team. “We will create programming that will identify those that have this passion,” Edwards says. “And we want to leverage it as the education arm to identify and develop this talent.”

DSW Partners with Pensole-Lewis College

With DSW, a major footwear retailer, as one of their biggest partners, the college will continue to teach important design skills to their students. DSW contributed $2 million to launch the factory and will continue to assist in marketing, distribution, and hiring top designer graduates from Pensole-Lewis College. DSW will also be involved on the academy side, even providing judges for the annual competition Edwards envisions.

D’Wayne Edwards’ Journey in the Footwear Industry

Throughout his three-decade career, which included stints with Nike and other major brands, Edwards has seen few people who look like him in the footwear design sphere. In 2019, he sought to change that by starting the Black Footwear Forum (BFF), drawing more than 300 designers, marketers, entrepreneurs, and students the following year.

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