D’Wayne Edwards

Founder, Pensole Footwear Design Academy

For teaching future shoe designers to walk the walk.


The Problem:

D’Wayne Edwards

The $50 billion sneaker industry had no pipeline to bring in young, talented footwear designers.

The Epiphany:

“When I was design director on [Nike’s] Jordan Brand in 2001, I wasn’t happy with what I saw in résumés and portfolios,” D’Wayne Edwards says. So he challenged his company. “I said, ‘You’re telling these kids who spend billions on your product that they can run, jump, and dunk. But what about changing the conversation to say they can design the product they’re purchasing?’ ”

The Execution:

For a few years, he mentored promising designers, and in 2008, he started the Future Sole competition for high schoolers. During a sabbatical in 2010, Edwards used his own money to fly 40 kids to the University of Oregon for a two-week program. That has since evolved into Pensole, an independent school with its own Portland facility that hosts intense classes that run one to four weeks. “It’s a job, man,” Edwards says about the program. “I put the students through everything: long hours, tight deadlines–the parts they don’t tell you about in school.”

The Result:

Via partnerships with Nike, Parsons, MIT, and others, more than 60 Pensole alumni have gone on to jobs at footwear companies. This May, Edwards launched the World Sneaker Championship, a single-elimination ­tournament bringing 21 ­students from eight regions to find the best sneaker designers in the world.

About the author

Skylar is an Editorial Assistant at Fast Company. He's previously written for Popular Mechanics, Esquire, Dwell and his hometown Chicagoland suburb newspaper.