Designer Brands Inc. recently unveiled the newest milestone achieved together with Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design (PLC) – the ribbon-cutting of JEMS by PENSOLE, located in Somersworth, New Hampshire, as one of the first Black-owned footwear factories in the United States.
The development and opening of the factory represent the culmination of Designer Brands’ $2 million investment into advancing action-oriented Diversity, Equity & Inclusion through its partnership with Detroit-based PLC, the first and only Historically Black College & University (HBCU) in Michigan and the first HBCU with a focus on design. Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, legendary footwear designer and President of PLC, will serve as the first designer to create a collection of shoes to be released by the factory. LeCrown Shoes Industry Co., LTD with decades of footwear development experience has also 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. 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.”
“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,” said Dr. Edwards. “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.”
JEMS stands for “Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio” – itself named in honor of the Black footwear pioneer who in 1883 received a patent that revolutionized footwear manufacturing, a process that inspired methods the industry still uses today.