First black-owned shoe manufacturing company launched by HBCU president

Abu Mubarik March 23, 2023
Dr. D’Wayne Edwards. Photo credit: Becauseofthemwecan

Veteran American shoe designer, Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, has launched the first-ever black-owned footwear and shoe factory called, Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio (JEMS). The name of the factory has historical significance, according to Because of Them We Can, it was named after the black inventor who revolutionized shoe manufacturing with his 1883 patent for the ‘lasting machine.’

The factory was established through a founding contribution of $1 million from LeCrown Shoes Industry and another $2 million investment from Designer Brands Inc., the parent company of DSW. The Somersworth New Hampshire-based factory only serves Edwards and his team, but will also be available for other upcoming black designers to produce their own shoes. 

Edwards’ journey in the footwear industry started at LA Gear. He was only 19 years old at the time, but has gone on to build a 30-year-old enviable career in shoe design and manufacturing. This has seen him design over 500 shoe styles for top musicians and celebrities, including Snoop Dogg, Tupac, Biggie, Michael Jordan, and Carmelo Anthony.

In addition, his designs have been worn in six Olympic games. Not only that, but he is also a 3x Mercedes Benz Fashion award winner and even received the President’s Volunteer of Service Award from President Barack Obama, Because of Them We Can notes.

His career started as an educator in 2010 when he converted Lewis College of Business, the only HBCU in Michigan into the first academy dedicated to footwear design in the nation. He now works to create diversity and inclusion in the shoe business as the President of Pensole Lewis College (PLC) of Business & Design in Detroit.

DSW President Bill Jordan, who was at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, described the new partnership as a “major achievement,” for boosting diversity in the industry. “

“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,” said Jordan. 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.”

On this part, Edwards touted the partnership as a unique opportunity to provide all the necessary resources for black designers to get their products into the global market.

“You can design products all day long and you can find factory resources to make samples and make production. But if you don’t have a distribution partner, then your business ends up failing or not getting off the ground,” Edwards previously told reporters.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 23, 2023


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