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Designer Brands and PLC Open One of the First Black-Owned U.S. Footwear Factories

Designer Brands, in partnership with the Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design (PLC), has cut the ribbon on the JEMS by Pensole factory in Somersworth, NH, one of the first Black-owned footwear factories in the United States. The development and opening of the factory represent the culmination of Designer Brands’ $2 million investment into advancing action-oriented Diversity, Equity & Inclusion through its partnership with Detroit-based PLC, the first and only Historically Black College & University (HBCU) in Michigan and the first HBCU with a focus on design. LeCrown Shoes Industry Co. also invested $1 million. 

“JEMS by Pensole’s opening marks a major achievement in improving representation by people of color in the footwear and design industries,” states Bill Jordan, president of Designer Brands. “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.” 

“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,” says Dr. D‘Wayne Edwards, president and founder of the PLC. “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.” 

Dr Edwards, the legendary athletic footwear designer, will serve as the first designer to create a collection of shoes to be released by JEMS, which stands for “Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio,” named in honor of the Black footwear pioneer who, in 1883, received a patent that revolutionized footwear manufacturing, a process that inspired methods the industry still uses today. 

Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, president of PLC, and Bill Jordan, president of Designer Brands officially open the new JEMS by Pensole shoe factory in Somersworth, NH. 


The July 2024 Issue

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