adidas and PENSOLE recently launched a nationwide search for aspiring footwear designers; color, material and finishing designers; and, 3D digital designers to participate in adidas Earn Your Stripes by PENSOLE, an intensive design program created to find and develop the next generation of designers for adidas footwear design. After completing the program, participants will share their designs with adidas executives for a chance to see their creations produced and sold at adidas stores.
D’Wayne Edwards founded PENSOLE, an innovative footwear design academy, to give talented young design students—regardless of socioeconomic background—an opportunity to learn from the industry’s best, without financial barriers, and to provide the industry with a farm system for the next generation of footwear designers.
We were fortunate enough to be able to ask D’Wayne some questions along with a couple of the students. If you have an interest in footwear design and would like to aspire to work within the industry then PENSOLE is probably the place for you.
Check out the interview below and feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section. If you need more information about PENSOLE then I strongly suggest you visit their site, PENSOLE.com.
WT: What was it that made you want to leave a designer’s dream job as a sneaker designer and pursue opening a school for up and coming designers?
DE: Statistically, I am not supposed to be here. I mean a black kid raised in one of the most dangerous cities in America usually leaves 2 ways, either dead or in jail. On top of that we were too poor for me to attend design school yet I was still able to make it out and have a long career in the footwear industry on the highest level. I knew there were more kids like me out there and I wanted to show them they have options by sharing the blessings I was given with the next generation and leave my industry better than when I entered it.
WT: Did you talk with friends/ family about the idea prior to making your final decision; if so, what was their reaction to the subject?
DE: Yes. Pensole was not a reactionary decision I just made one day. It was in the works for years before I actually decided to have the first class. 99.9% of the people I talked to about it were all in favor and genuinely happy for me and what Pensole could mean for the industry. That .1% person was older and their generation stayed at jobs for 30 and 40 years so they could not understand why I would give up my well-paying dream job. I told them about a quote I heard from Mark Twain. He said, “There are 2 important dates in our lives. The day we are born and the day we discover why.” Besides having a beautiful family, Pensole is my “why.”
WT: Will you ever return to designing footwear for a brand(s) or is Pensole right where you want to be?
DE: Pensole is right were I want to STAY! I love design and I am open to designing shoes “in collaboration” with another brand as long as it benefits Pensole. I spent over two decades designing for other brands, which was amazing, but I want to spend the rest of my time in this industry building the Pensole brand and developing the next generation of footwear design leaders with programs like this one with adidas. I will give adidas credit for being the first company to figure out what I am trying to do with Pensole. In 2012, we collaborated on our first class and to date, there are over 10 former Pensole students working at adidas either as full-time, contractors or interns.
Q&A with Pensole Students
WT: Since attending Pensole, has your perspective on footwear and design changed at all? For instance… when you walk into a retailer, do you look at the wall of shoes much differently than you had before?
Dominic Dina: Pensole has definitely played a big role in molding my opinion of footwear. The way I look at a pair of shoes today is drastically different from the way I looked at shoes a few years ago. I will really focus on the material choices and construction of a shoe. I pull on materials and see how the design works with material breaks. I honestly don’t remember what made me like certain shoes over others before I attended Pensole, but I can tell you that when a shoe impresses me now it’s because the design solves a problem in a clever and simple way.
When I look at a wall of shoes I get pretty overwhelmed. I have to take each one off the wall and play with it, I always spend way too much time in the store not actually buying anything. I think I get on the employees’ nerves.
Lindsey Bench: D’Wayne taught me the importance of storytelling and creating a complete story down to the last detail. Every product we touch has a story whether you know it or not. My product design education was all about problem solving and function. But when that is combined with storytelling you have a much more powerful product. It makes for a streamlined point of view. Now when I am out shopping I look to see what a product is telling me.
Dominic Dina: I think that the aesthetic of the shoe should be wholly based on emphasizing the tech story. For instance, if there is a specific piece of tech in the design that makes that shoe great, then the aesthetic of the shoe should feature that piece so the consumer can see the performance aspects of the shoe as well as feel them.
Lindsey Bench: I think both are equally important. The aesthetic pulls the consumer in and makes them take try it on. The fit and initial read will get them to buy it and if the shoe performs well over time it will create brand affinity and great customer service will bring return customers. If any of these are missing you may miss an opportunity to turn someone “just looking” into a loyal customer.
WT: If you were speaking to students that aspire to design footwear in the future; can you explain why they should consider Pensole over another school or University? How does Pensole provide you with an edge over the competition once you’ve completed the program?
Dominic Dina: Whenever people reach out to me for advice on footwear design I always tell them about Pensole and that Pensole would be an invaluable resource for them if they plan on taking footwear seriously in their future. No school that I have heard of has the type of curriculum that Pensole has. Dwayne and Suzette’s ability to help students grow so much as designers over such a short period of time is truly astounding.
Pensole provides students the advantage of being able to connect with many important figures in the footwear design industry. I believe the most important thing Pensole does for its students is make them more valuable than others applying for the same jobs since the knowledge gained at Pensole allows alumni to be productive workers as soon as they start rather than going through months of training.
Lindsey Bench: Dwayne is not just a great teacher, he is the most inspiring person I have ever met. He gets you to dream big and work hard through positivity, a quality that most teachers do not have. In design school all they care about is your skills. D’Wayne looks at each individual student and aligns with a team that will complement their skills. He pushes you to become a better person which in turn makes you a better designer. In one Pensole class you learn as much as you do in a year of design school. On top of that he guides you on how to navigate the corporate world. Pensole will change your life if you are up to the challenge.