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DSW Parent Invests $2M in First Black-Owned Footwear Factory in US

DSW parent Designer Brands plans to invest $2 million in JEMS by Pensole, the first Black-owned footwear factory in the United States, it announced last week.

The funds will go toward producing shoes designed by Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design (PLC) graduate students “with the goal of all work leading to the launch of Black designers’ brands inside of DSW,” CEO Roger Rawlins said. The students’ shoes will be sold exclusively at the retailer’s stores.

“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,” Rawlins said in a statement.

Pensole named its JEMS factory in honor of Jan Ernst Matzeliger, a Black footwear pioneer whose 1883 patent revolutionized last manufacturing. From now through Sept. 15, Matzeliger’s birthday, DSW plans to chronicle the opening of JEMS by Pensole and production of its first shoes.

Detroit’s College for Creative Studies originally announced its partnership with the Pensole Design Academy in October. The new arrangement will relocate the academy from Portland, Ore., to Michigan, where it will relaunch under the PLC name. Expected to open in May, the school will resurrect the state’s only historically Black college and university, the Lewis College of Business, as the nation’s first HBCU with a focus on design.

“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,” Pensole founder D’Wayne Edwards said in a statement. “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.”

DSW is not the only retailer supporting PLC in its mission. In October, Target revealed that it would be one of the school’s founding supporters. Last month, HanesBrands announced it was making a $2 million investment in three HBCUs, including PLC, where it will be a “strategic partner” of the HanesBrands Apparel Studio. The company plans to donate materials, including fabrics and blank finished goods, as well as equipment to help teach students design.