Master Class Experience at PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy

So you want to be a footwear designer huh? I love sneakers, but I had no idea how hard attending a PENSOLE crash course would be…until now.

A select group of media members were given the opportunity to fly out to Portland, Oregon, to be apart of a Master Class Experience at PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy.

We began the first evening by getting introduced to the new Asics ‘Fresh Up’ Gel 180; we met the winners of the class that created the sneaker and learned about what went into designing the sneaker — although we’d learn more about that soon enough. The group was given a recap as to what the teams went through during the design process; they had to be able to coordinate ideas and make a product that would appeal to the masses.

Afterwards, D’Wayne Edwards, former Jordan Brand designer and the founder of PENSOLE, provided insight on how serious it is to be apart of the program; PENSOLE doesn’t just accept anyone, only a select few that work hard and show true passion for the craft of sneaker-making.

We were also given a run down on the upcoming World Sneaker Championship design launch along with our intro to the Kicks Kombine, the crash-course in sneaker making that we were about to experience at PENSOLE.

kicks kombine pensole academy

The following day we met back at PENSOLE Academy for a little breakfast and, of course, an unorthodox way to start off our class. We were offered a different perspective at the start — D’Wayne provided three quotes from three different poets/writers/philosophers to show how he would normally start each class day. The exercise gives his students an opportunity to share different facets of their thought processes and creativity.

We spread out to start our challenges with “Speed Lacing,” a concept exercise where we were given a shoe’s silhouette sketch and we’d have to come up with several different ways of lacing up the shoe. Another exercise was “Hot Blocking,” where we worked on a WACOM pen-to-screen device and had to create as many grey/white scale color blocking on a shoe as we could in a certain amount of time.

Other exercises included “Tactility Test,” where we were blindfolded and had to feel material samples and name what they were — and it definitely isn’t as easy as it seems! The “AcuColor Test” got us to closely examine colors and noticed differences between them.

Something called the “FOB Challenge,” a component pricing exercise in which we were to estimate the costs of individual materials and parts utilized to create a shoe.

As we moved on to the secondary challenges, we realized things were about to get a little bit more difficult. We were faced with the “Decon Recon” shoe pattern puzzle that had a shoe on a last with Velcro. We were given broken down materials and told to put the shoe together.

The “Clean Cut” and “Sewn Up” challenges had us hot press TPU material and sew synthetics together — something I’d never done before so I appreciated the process even more. Another exercise included “EverLasting Strength” and it had nothing to do with brute force or strength. Instead, you had to use the name of the challenge and break the last in order to pull the shoe off (I did it under a minute and I’m still proud).

After all the challenges, we reconvened as a group awaited judging. While I didn’t finish first in the class, I also didn’t finish last. We all had strengths and weakness, and the most important thing was coming out of the Kicks Kombine more educated about things we were never aware of in footwear.

It was a great reminder by D’Wayne that while a lot of us sneaker media people/sneaker enthusiasts have been around the industry, there are so many things we still don’t know about footwear production — and it was quite a humbling experience. Individuals who take a PENSOLE Academy class and work rigorously through three weeks are judged based on only three minutes. People pour their hearts into the work that goes on at PENSOLE — presentation, concept, design, and overall output — and it shows that the program is for those who are truly passionate about being in the industry.

I wanted to extend a thank you to D’Wayne Edwards, Vince Lebron, and Brady Corum (winners of the PENSOLE design for the Asics ‘Fresh Up’ Gel 180), the rest of the academy team members, Colin Brickley, Senior Director of Lifestyle Marketing at Asics, and the people at Foot Locker for this life-changing experience.

For those interested in the brand new Asics ‘Fresh Up’ Gel 180 created by the winners of Foot Locker’s “Fueling the Future of Footwear” Master Class, the shoes will be available at select Foot Locker locations and on; you can learn more here.


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