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Foot Locker to Invest $2 Million in Pensole Footwear Design Academy

In the 1980s, a 17-year-old D’Wayne Edwards tried and failed to get a job at a Foot Locker in Englewood, California—but on Thursday, more than 30 years later, Foot Locker announced a $2 million investment in Pensole, Edwards’ footwear academy.

“My relationship with Foot Locker goes back over 30 years from consumer, to designer, to educator and now partner. I am excited to deepen our relationship with Foot Locker so we can empower consumers to create their future through innovative educational programs,” Edwards said in a statement. “It has always been our joint mission to foster the next generation of emerging footwear and apparel design talent, and I am confident that our collaboration will contribute to the continued growth of the academy, success of our students, and accelerated innovation in the footwear industry.”

One of the youngest designers to have been appointed as a design director at Nike and a pioneer at Jordan—where he claims to have contributed to more than $1 billion in sales—Edwards turned his time with the brand into a platform for kids like himself to discover their potential in footwear design. Since opening its doors in Portland, Oregon, in 2010, Pensole has graduated 400 students that then went on to work in the sneaker industry.

Foot Locker has already sponsored a few classes at Pensole, including its master class design competition at Pensole, “Fueling the Future of Footwear,” which has already resulted in three new styles that sold successfully and led to the employment of 30 footwear professionals.

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With its investment, Foot Locker hopes to develop a talent pipeline from Pensole directly to the design floor.

“Through this investment, we are excited to extend our partnership with Pensole, an organization that shares our deep commitment to fostering education and driving design innovation and excellence in the industry,” Richard Johnson, Foot Locker chairman and CEO said. “Pensole’s position as a leading footwear design academy will enable Foot Locker, Inc. to deepen our relationships with our vendor partners and leverage the next generation of talent across our brand partners for exclusive consumer-facing concepts. We look forward to working closely with D’Wayne and Pensole’s talented students and world-class faculty, as together we design and produce the footwear of tomorrow.”

Tuition at Pensole is free for those who qualify, though some of the classes require a fee. The academy works on a “learn by doing” curriculum that covers the footwear process from start to finish, including helping students develop their own branding. Students can attend one of the many brand-sponsored classes or competitions, work in concept shops or learn new trades at the Skills Academy. The Pensole website also provides free resources to prospective students, like diagrams that map out the human foot and templates for designer portfolios.

Foot Locker has made a number of recent strategic investments in organizations it hopes can expand and enhance its footwear offering. Earlier this month, it announced another strategic partnership with Super Heroic, a children’s footwear startup that is also helmed by a former Nike designer.