Designer Brands investing in first Black-owned U.S. footwear factory

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Footwear produced by graduate students at the nation’s first Black-owned footwear factory will be sold exclusively at DSW.

Designer Brands has entered into a partnership to create entrepreneurial opportunities for underrepresented shoe designers.

The parent of DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse is investing $2 million in a partnership with Pensole and legendary footwear designer Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, president of Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design (PLC). Located in Detroit, PLC is the first and only Historically Black College & University (HBCU) in Michigan and the first HBCU with a focus on design. PLC, formerly known as the Lewis College of Business, is expected to reopen in May 2022. (Target is a founding supporter of PLC.)

Through the partnership, Designer Brands will invest in the first Black-owned footwear factory in the United States – JEMS by Pensole – to produce shoes designed by PLC graduate students. The footwear will be sold exclusively at DSW. (JEMS stands for "Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio" – named in honor of the Black footwear pioneer who in 1883 received a patent that revolutionized footwear manufacturing and inspired methods the industry still uses today.)

"We see the footwear industry lacking effective representation by people of color, specifically Blacks, and this $2 million investment will address root causes to remove barriers," said Roger Rawlins, CEO, Designer Brands. "Blacks represent less than five percent of those across all design industries, thus lacking much-needed diversity. Designer Brands and DSW's commitment with Pensole will create a U.S.-based shoe factory, with the goal of all work leading to the launch of Black designers' brands inside of DSW."

Dr. Edwards noted that the footwear industry needs more diversity. “The partnership we are entering into with Designer Brands and DSW is a new business model that truly empowers the consumer to influence the industry toward that goal," he said. "Together with Pensole, Designer Brands and DSW will provide designers opportunities to offer new products directly to consumers. Along the way we will create careers and invest in talented aspiring designers to become the future of our industry."

[Read More: DSW parent Q3 earnings top Street]

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 on September 15, DSW will chronicle the opening of JEMS by Pensole and production of its first shoes.

Designer Brands operates nearly 700 stores under the DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse, The Shoe Company and Shoe Warehouse banners. The company also designs and produces footwear and accessories through Camuto Group, a leading manufacturer selling in more than 5,400 stores worldwide.

Camuto Group owns licensing rights for the Jessica Simpson footwear business and footwear and handbag licenses for Lucky Brand. In partnership with a joint venture with Authentic Brands Group, Designer Brands also owns a stake in Vince Camuto, Louise et Cie and others.

The Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design will become the nation's first-ever reinstated HBCU. Founded by Dr. D'Wayne Edwards, the founder of the PENSOLE Design Academy in Detroit, PLC will resurrect the Lewis College of Business in Detroit. Beginning in May 2022, PENSOLE Design Academy, in collaboration with the College for Creative Studies (CCS), will offer programs across design, sustainability, business, STEM and more, serving young Black creatives across industries.

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