Designer Brands Inc. Announces Major Investment to Increase Diversity within Footwear Industry

Posted on 2/16/2022 8:50:42 PM

Designer Brands Inc. is excited to partner with legendary footwear designer Dr. D’Wayne Edwards to open the first Black-owned footwear factory, JEMS by PENSOLE, to produce shoes designed by students of Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design – the first design-focused HBCU. These shoes will then sell exclusively at Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW).

We are investing $2 million – our largest Diversity, Equity & Inclusion investment to date – to bring the new designers’ footwear to life, help grow careers and truly change the face of the footwear industry. Black designers represent less than five percent of all talent across the greater design industry. To improve those numbers, Designer Brands wants to bring people of color to the table – especially Black designers – and support a path that creates rewarding careers.

To pay tribute to the legacy of those who helped pave that path, the factory’s name JEMS stands for “Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio” – 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. With Black History Month in February, Designer Brands has embraced “MORE THAN A MONTH” as the symbolic theme to recognize and pay homage to Black innovators and providing opportunities for designers of color. From now through Matzeliger’s birthday September 15, DSW will chronicle the opening of JEMS by PENSOLE and production of its first shoes.

“It’s the right thing to do, and it’s also a huge initiative that can impact not just our business, but our industry for years to come,” said Designer Brands CEO Roger Rawlins. “These are the next famous shoe designers. And we feel extremely lucky to get to work with them from the beginning.”

Read more about our investment here.