You’re looking everywhere for a perfect pair of sneakers in a jungle of shapes, colors and functions. You find a decent pair, but it lacks that special little touch. “If only I could design my own pair of sneakers,” you sigh. Well, what if we told you you could? And that there’s actually a school for designing sneakers, and only sneakers?
Welcome to Pensole Footwear Design Academy in Nike’s hometown Portland. Founded by D’Wayne Edwards, the footwear designer behind the Air Jordan XXI sneaker, the school makes sneaker design approachable for anyone.
Growing up in Inglewood, California, Edwards had always loved drawing. His tool a No. 2 pencil, his goal always to become a footwear designer.
-As a teenager I worked at McDonald’s and my managers often told me that if I stayed at McDonald’s I could work my way up to a managerial position myself and make $40,000 a year one day. I told them my dreams were bigger than that: I wanted to be a footwear designer, Edwards is quoted on the school’s home page.
His high school guidance counselor told him to enlist in the army, since “making a career out of designing shoes [was] never going to happen for a black kid from Inglewood”.
The negative advice motivated Edwards. He kept on drawing and participating in design competitions. At 17 he won a Reebok design competition, beating professionals and college students nationwide.
The lucky few
After high school, attending design schools was out of his family’s financial reach. And no U.S. schools offered a footwear design program. That’s when he first had the idea of starting Pensole.
Even without a proper design education, however, Edwards worked his way up the footwear design industry. And many years later, he made true on his dream and founded a school that offered a footwear design program.
The school is sponsored by big brands such as Adidas and Nike to offer free tuition, meaning that also financially challenged people like Edwards used to be, can have a chance to study design.
People from all over the world apply and just 30 lucky students are accepted to each main course, an intensive 11-week long course equivalent to a full college semester. Students learn about professional practices, communication practices, design processes, research methods, prototype development, digital imaging, materials, and color fundamentals and strategy.
At the end of the course the students will have developed a professional portfolio and their own website, as well as suave presentation skills and a network.
How cool is that?
Check out the YouTube series “Lace Up – The Ultimate Sneaker Challenge” – a competition series that simulates the competitive world of sneaker design, where Edwards mentors the contestants.
The writer, Mellina Villanueva, is a student at Kristiania University College and an editor in Untold Editorial, the group of students and young professionals that produce The Creative Industry Brief.