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Designer Brands Partners with Pensole to Open First Black-Owned U.S. Footwear Factory

Designer Brands Inc., parent of DSW, is investing $2 million into advancing action-oriented Diversity, Equity & Inclusion through a partnership with legendary footwear designer Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, founder of the Pensole Design Academy and president of the new Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design (PLC). Located in Detroit, PLC is the first and only Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Michigan and the first HBCU with a focus on design. PLC, formerly known as the Lewis College of Business, is expected to reopen in May 2022. In this new partnership, Designer Brands will invest in the first Black-owned footwear factory in the United States—JEMS by Pensole—to produce shoes designed by PLC graduate students and to be sold exclusively at DSW.

“We see the footwear industry lacking effective representation by people of color, specifically Blacks, and this $2 million investment will address root causes to remove barriers,” states Roger Rawlins, CEO of Designer Brands. “Blacks represent less than five percent of those across all design industries, thus lacking much-needed diversity. Designer Brands and DSW’s commitment with Pensole will create a U.S.-based shoe factory, with the goal of all work leading to the launch of Black designers’ brands inside of DSW.”

“The footwear industry needs more diversity,” states Dr. Edwards. “The partnership we are entering into with Designer Brands and DSW is a new business model that truly empowers the consumer to influence the industry toward that goal. Together with Pensole, Designer Brands and DSW we will provide designers opportunities to offer new products directly to consumers. Along the way we will create careers and invest in talented aspiring designers to become the future of our industry.”

JEMS 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. With Black History Month in February, Designer Brands has embraced “MORE THAN A MONTH” as the symbolic theme to recognize and pay homage to Black innovators and providing opportunities for designers of color. From now through Matzeliger’s birthday Sept. 15, DSW will chronicle the opening of JEMS by Pensole and production of its first shoes.

Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, president of the new Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design.

The March 2024 Issue

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