Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, president of HBCU Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design, is continuing to support more Black designers to get their foot into the footwear industry.

Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design has joined Designer Brands Inc., owner of DSW stores, to open JEMS by PENSOLE — one of the first Black-owned U.S. footwear factories — according to a press release.

Located in Somersworth, N.H., Dr. Edwards is set to serve as the first designer to create a shoe collection for the factory.

“JEMS by PENSOLE is a firm step for promising careers for Black leaders in footwear, who as a group represent less than five percent across all design industries,” Dr. Edwards shared in the press statement. “With our factory now open, we’ll quickly advance PLC graduates to training for product pre-production all the way to creation of our first sneakers. Our partnership with Designer Brands and DSW makes all this possible and celebrates Black business innovators in important and meaningful ways.”

The opening of JEMS by PENSOLE is under Designer Brands’ $2 million investment to help recruit and develop careers for underrepresented designers, the press release details. Additionally, LeCrown Shoes Industry Co. LTD invested $1 million. 

“JEMS by PENSOLE’s opening marks a major achievement in improving representation by people of color in the footwear and design industries,” said Bill Jordan, President of Designer Brands.

“We are excited to see the initial shoe designs brought to life by PLC graduates in the new factory, with the future products to be sold exclusively at DSW stores,” he added. “By honoring the legacy of Black entrepreneurs, we aim to inspire future designers by providing a powerful path for educational, career and retail success. When we work to advance diversity in the world of fashion brands, our business succeeds and everyone wins.”

The press release notes that JEMS (Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio) pays homage to Jan Ernst Matzeliger, a Black pioneer who revolutionized footwear manufacturing.