Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, a veteran American shoe designer, has established the first black-owned footwear and shoe manufacturer, Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio (JEMS). According to Because of Them We Can, the plant was named after the black innovator who revolutionized shoe manufacture with his innovation for the ‘lasting machine’ in 1883.
The factory was founded with a $1 million commitment from LeCrown Shoes Industry and a $2 million investment from Designer Brands Inc., DSW’s parent business. The facility in Somersworth, New Hampshire, not only serves Edwards and his team, but it will also be open for other young black designers to make their own shoes.
Edwards began his career in the footwear industry at LA Gear. He was only 19 years old at the time, but has gone on to develop a 30-year-old enviable career in shoe design and manufacture. He has designed over 500 shoe types for famous musicians and celebrities such as Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Michael Jordan, and Carmelo Anthony.
His designs have also been worn in six Olympic events. Not only that, but he is a three-time Mercedes-Benz Fashion Award winner and received President Barack Obama’s Volunteer of Service Award, according to Because of Them We Can.
His career as an educator began in 2010 when he transformed Lewis College of Commerce, Michigan’s lone HBCU, into the nation’s first footwear design academy. As President of Pensole Lewis College (PLC) of Business & Design in Detroit, he currently strives to promote diversity and inclusion in the shoe industry.
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.