This article was originally published on BLAC® Finance.

Jan Ernst Matzeliger

Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, a veteran footwear designer, has spent the last 40 years designing shoes. He is now making history as the founder and CEO of JEMS, the first Black-owned footwear and shoe factory in the country. Additionally, Edwards is the President of Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design (PLC), an HBCU based in Detroit, Michigan, formerly known as Lewis College of Business. The factory is located in Somersworth, New Hampshire, and was made possible by Designer Brands Inc.’s $2 million investment- the parent company of DSW, a multi-billion dollar shoe retailer with over 500 stores in 44 states. Another investment of $1 million was made by LeCrown Shoes Industry Co., which has decades of experience in footwear development, according to Footwear News.

Edwards will oversee the first shoe designs, but the factory will eventually be used by other up-and-coming designers of color to manufacture shoes that will be sold exclusively at DSW stores across the country. The goal is to promote and encourage diversity and inclusion in the footwear design industry.

“We’re thrilled to showcase new design talent, particularly design talent of color,” said Bill Jordan, DSW’s President. “We have a responsibility and a desire to do so. And, frankly, our customers expect it.”

JEMS, the factory’s name, is an acronym for Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio, named after a Black inventor who revolutionized footwear manufacturing with his 1883 patent for the lasting machine.

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About D’Wayne Edward

Despite having no formal education, D’Wayne Edwards began his career as an entry-level footwear designer for LA Gear in 1989 at the age of 19. Over the course of his career spanning three decades, he has received numerous honors and awards, including 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, and President Barack Obama’s President’s Volunteer of Service Award.

As a designer, Dr. Edwards has more than 50 patents and has designed more than 500 footwear styles for top 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 been seen in 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 transforming Lewis College of Business, the only HBCU in Michigan, into the first academy in the United States solely dedicated to footwear design. It is now called Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design and is based in Detroit. Learn more at PensoleLewisCollege.com.

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