Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, a legendary footwear designer, has been designing shoes for almost 40 years, and now he is making history as the founder and CEO of JEMS, the country’s first ever Black-owned footwear and shoe factory. Edwards is also the President of Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design (PLC), a Detroit, Michigan-based HBCU formally known as Lewis College of Business.
Located in Somersworth, New Hampshire, the factory was made possible thanks to a $2 million dollar investment made by Designer Brands Inc., the parent company of DSW, a multi-billion dollar shoe retailer with more than 500 stores in 44 states. According to Footwear News, another investment of $1 million was made by LeCrown Shoes Industry Co., which has decades of footwear development experience.
Edwards himself will orchestrate the first shoe designs, but ultimately, the factory will be used by other up-and-coming designers of color to produce shoes that will then exclusively be sold at DSW stores nationwide. The goal is to facilitate and encourage more diversity and inclusion in the footwear design industry.
“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.”
The factory is called JEMS, an acronym for Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio, named after a Black inventor who changed footwear manufacturing with his 1883 patent for the lasting machine.
About the Founder
D’Wayne Edwards, with no formal education, started his career in 1989 as an entry-level footwear designer for LA Gear at the age of 19. Over the course of his career, which now spans over three decades, he has received numerous honors and awards, from 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 to President Barack Obama awarding him the President’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. Learn more at PensoleLewisCollege.com