Dr. D’Wayne Edwards is a legendary footwear designer who has been designing shoes for nearly 40 years. He is currently making history as the creator and CEO of JEMS, the country’s first Black-owned footwear and shoe manufacturer. Edwards is also the President of Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design (PLC), a Detroit, Michigan-based historically black college (HBCU) formerly known as Lewis College of Business.
The factory, which is located in Somersworth, New Hampshire, was made possible by a $2 million investment made by Designer Brands Inc., the parent company of DSW, a multi-billion dollar shoe retailer with over 500 locations in 44 states. LeCrown Shoes Industry Co., which has decades of footwear development experience, made another $1 million investment, according to Footwear News.
The first shoe designs will be orchestrated by Edwards, but the factory will eventually be used by other up-and-coming designers of color to make shoes that will be exclusively offered at DSW stores nationally. The purpose is to promote and facilitate more diversity and inclusion in the footwear design business.
“We’re so excited to be able to highlight new design talent, especially design talent of color,” said Bill Jordan, President of DSW. “We’ve got a responsibility to do that, and a desire to do that. And quite frankly, our customers want us to do it.”
JEMS is an acronym for Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio, and it is named for a Black inventor who revolutionized footwear manufacture with his 1883 patent for the lasting machine.
D’Wayne Edwards, who had no formal schooling, began his work as an entry-level footwear designer at LA Gear at the age of 19 in 1989. He has received numerous honors and awards throughout his career, including the Red Dot award, three-time Mercedes Benz Fashion award winner, Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business, Business Insider 100 People Transforming Business, and President Barack Obama’s Volunteer of Service Award.
As a designer, Dr. Edwards has accumulated more than 50 patents and designed more than 500 footwear styles for premier entertainers such as Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, and Nas. His designs have been worn in six different Olympics, and have graced all MLB, NFL, and NBA stadiums by athletes such as Derek Jeter, Carmelo Anthony, and Michael Jordan.
In 2010, Edwards began his journey as an educator by converting Lewis College of Business, the only HBCU in the entire state of Michigan, into the first academy in the U.S. dedicated to footwear design. It is now known as Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design and is based in Detroit.