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Timberland, Vans and The North Face Offer ‘Pathway’ for Diverse Footwear Designers

VF Corp.’s stable of household-name brands is attempting to elevate the perspectives of designers of color through a new program.

In partnership with the Portland-based Pensole Academy—which supports young footwear design students through education and career mentorship—Timberland, Vans and The North Face have announced an integrated partnership called DiverCity x Design.

The corporate apprenticeship aims to empower young Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) designers, arming them with access to professional design expertise and giving them experiences that will help inform their careers in footwear. “The mission of the partnership will be to invest in the industry’s future,” the groups said in a statement, and to “create a program that ensures diversity of thinking and experience.” It also builds upon VF Corp.’s sweeping roster of diversity and inclusion goals announced last month.

Through an immersive curriculum developed with Pensole, DiverCity x Design will teach students the principles of footwear design, along with giving them hands-on insights into the product creation process. They will also receive professional development training and instruction on how to drive brand engagement, the groups said. The program’s top performers will be granted career mentorship opportunities at each of the brands’ headquarters.

The competitive program, which will take just 27 students, will begin with a three-week online pre-program that explores the young designers’ personal and professional skillsets. When the period is up, 18 of those students will be hand-picked by the brands to participate in the eight-week Pensole Masterclass, where they will be divided into teams to produce capstone projects that showcase what they’ve learned.

From there, the top five performing students will be granted the opportunity to enter into a year-long rotational apprenticeship, taking place at Timberland’s headquarters in Stratham, N.H.; Vans’ Costa Mesa, Calif., offices, and The North Face’s facility in Denver.

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“DiverCity x DESIGN is an amazing opportunity to reach consumers where they are and provide them a pathway into our industry unlike what they have been afforded before,” Pensole founder D’Wayne Edwards said, thanking VF Corp. for partnering with the academy on “an important program that will help shape the future of your company and the lives of your consumers.”

“I have been a consumer of Vans, Timberland and The North Face brands for decades, and it is humbling to see our relationship grow into us working together on such a meaningful program,” he added. Open enrollment for the program began Tuesday on Pensole’s website, and will run through March 30.

Timberland and Pensole will also launch a separate program this spring, in partnership with Constnt:Dvlpmnt, dubbed Creative Discovery Tools. The youth-focused endeavor, which will target middle-schoolers to start, will help foster creative growth in kids with a burgeoning interest in the footwear industry over the course of a four-week online footwear design program. The groups aim to scale the program over the course of the next five years to include high school and post K-12 would-be designers.

“Our partnership with the Pensole Academy is part of the work to build a more inclusive and equitable future,” said Chris McGrath, Timberland’s vice president of global footwear design, adding that the brand hopes these efforts will prepare students through “insight and experience” for a “lifelong career” in the industry.

“DiverCity x Design, coupled with our youth program, creates the platform to nurture talent at a young age,” he added, “and opens doors for BIPOC student to realize a dream job in a field, and with a brand, that may have felt unattainable.”

Vans vice president of global footwear product design Mark Haskins said the venture represents “a great opportunity for us to work closely with creative students and provide them insight into what it’s like to work at Vans,” and to grow representation of Black creatives across the sector. “As a brand engrained in youth culture and centered around enabling creative expression, we are excited to partner again this year with D’Wayne and the Pensole team,” he added.

Jean-Marc Djian, global vice president of footwear for The North Face, said the program serves as an extension of the brand’s philosophy of encouraging exploration. The company is also intent on continuing to “invest in and expand our footwear innovations,” he added. “We are excited to work with Pensole to create new opportunities for up-and-coming designers, and ensure the creativity, expertise and expression of the designers we work with is as diverse as the communities who use our footwear to explore.”