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Athletic apparel design initiative aims for more diverse footing
JCSU first HBCU to join global collaboration
Published Thursday, January 23, 2020 1:30 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

Anna Smith, director of education at Portland, Oregon-based Pensole Design Academy, left, and Johnson C. Smith University professor Jemayne King collaborated on a recruiting effort to bring HBCU students into athletic apparel design.

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Johnson C. Smith University is on the cutting edge of a program to put athletic wear design on a more diverse foot.

The historically black college is the first of its kind to recruit students to athletic apparel design through Portland, Oregon-based Pensole Design Academy, which mentors and teaches future designers through personal projects and initiatives. The academy’s launched Leaders Emerge After Design, an initiative to bring more diversity to the apparel industry’s design pipeline.

“We’re introducing these students who may be interested in the footwear and apparel industry to get in there, find jobs and do exciting things,” said Anna Smith, director of education at Pensole Design Academy.

PDA was founded in 2010 as a footwear design academy by D’Wayne Edwards, a former Nike employee. It has grown from its start at the University of Oregon to campuses such as the New School for Design in New York City, Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Kolding Design School in Denmark.

“Pensole was adamant about increasing the minority presence in the footwear industry, especially among its employees,” said JCSU English professor Jemayne King, who launched the nation’s first class and research dedicated to athletic footwear culture. “There are many minorities who have aspirations [as designers]. Their whole love of sneaker culture is having an opportunity to create and unfortunately until recently the industry hasn’t been very welcoming of their presence.”

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Smith spoke to approximately 30 JCSU students last week about applying to the LEAD initiative, a three-part seminar series with two online components and an in-person seminar at North Carolina State University that runs concurrent with the academic year. The first online seminar session, which meets once a week, will take on 60 students and run March 4-May 4. Thirty students from that group will graduate to the master class June 21-July 11 and the second online session Sept. 9-Dec. 2 with weekly meetings.

Bringing more students of color – especially from HBCUs – into design is part of Pensole’s campaign to maximize the talent pool for the apparel industry, which generates $181 billion yearly in global sales. Major players like Nike, Adidas and Puma are worldwide brands and always on the lookout for new talent, but freelancers and independent designers are also part of the business community.

“That’s been one of D’Wayne’s goals when he started 10 years ago that’s one of the key areas we’re working on,” said Smith, a Concord native. “We’ve been doing this a while, we’re doing the best we can and now we’re trying to reach out specifically to different people, different populations to get the industry more inclusive and expanding those opportunities for recruiters and design directors.”

Said King: “Hopefully, this will be a positive by-product. One of my goals is to show individuals that sneaker culture …is where the academy needs to go in the 21st century. That’ll be the kerosene in attempting to make gasoline.”

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