Cheresse Thornhill-Goldson Went From Designing Footwear For Nike To Paving The Way For WOC In Design
Photo Credit: Cheresse Thornhill-Goldson

Cheresse Thornhill-Goldson Went From Designing Footwear For Nike To Paving The Way For WOC In Design

Your purpose will always find its way back to you, no matter which steps you take. For Cheresse Thornhill-Goldson, design has always been in the cards for her.

The creator’s deep interest in studying the field began in high school, which led her to major in Industrial Design during undergrad at the College for Creative Studies in Michigan.

Along with pursuing higher education, when on the search for work experience, she landed an internship with Nike. Then, coming right out of college, the 21-year-old went from intern to beginning her career as a Footwear Designer at one of the biggest footwear companies in the world. 

The Power Of Mentorship

According to Thornhill-Goldson, mentorship was a  key for entering spaces where she typically may not have had a shot. Her mentors in the design industry such as Duane Lawrence and D’Wayne Edwards took her under their wing and aided in her preparation for moments such as securing life-changing opportunities.

I’m such an advocate for mentorship because I knew that it made all the difference for me being a Black woman in the space,” Thornhill-Goldson told AfroTech. “There’s no other way I would’ve gotten through had I not had mentors already in the industry saying, ‘Cheresse study this, email this person, work on this thing in your portfolio’ versus me having to blindly navigate that. I wouldn’t have been in the spaces nor would my portfolio have been what it needed to be for me to get into the internship and then subsequently a full-time role.” 

If it weren’t for already learning the ropes from established designers, Thornhill-Goldson might’ve not been ready for surreal career moments like traveling to China to work on shoe designs.

Switching Lanes

While she was thriving during her time with Nike for 10 years, she experienced a shift of wanting to expand on her purpose to build her legacy. Similar to how knowledge was shared with her through great mentorship, she found herself again in education once she went back to get her Master’s, then both teaching at her former high school and college-level design. Fast forward to now, and those moments have led her to teach at another athletic footwear giant.

adidas S.E.E.D

Being the Design Director at adidas School for Experiential Education in Design (S.E.E.D), Thornhill-Goldson works to build a community for young designers, specifically women of color.

Working beside her counterparts Jessica Smith and Liz Connelly — the co-founders of the program — the team is committed to providing access, awareness, and a pathway to help open the door for more women to tap into the plethora of jobs that are in the industry.

The students are also actively supported as they are paid throughout the entire course of the program — essentially being paid to learn as Thornhill-Goldson puts it. Additionally, they’re paid a housing stipend each month. Financial assistance is a part of how adidas S.E.E.D aims to lessen the barriers students face.

“It’s really about creating equity,” she said. “We try to remove as many barriers as possible. So, our students just have to be at least 18 years of age and able to work in the U.S. Those are the only requirements. And to be a woman of color because that’s who we’re focusing on.” 

She continued: “No resume, no portfolio. None of the things that you have to have to get into one of the top 10 art schools. Our whole premise is really experiential. We create opportunities for our students to experience design and work with us and collaborate with us. And we evaluate them on their ability to collaborate, to take feedback and implement it, and to be curious — all of the leadership qualities one would need to be successful. We believe that we can teach you how to design. We can teach everyone how to draw or design, anything.”

In 2020, S.E.E.D welcomed its inaugural class. Two years later, it’s now currently recruiting for its third generation. The two-year program extends beyond just footwear and has featured the likes of intensive instruction through product creation, working with adidas women’s originals for a shoe collection, as well as apparel, accessories, and backpacks.

adidas S.E.E.D
courtesy of adidas S.E.E.D

The goal is for the young creators to become more well-rounded designers.