D'Wayne Edwards wanted to go to school for sneaker design. But in the late 80s, that wasn't an option—even in Los Angeles.
"I grew up in Inglewood, Calif., and it's a garment town. So there were tons of apparel design schools there, but nothing for footwear," he says. "This was pre-Google, so I couldn't just jump online and look stuff up, so it was really the phone book and word of mouth. But I looked into things, and there wasn't anything available. There was no path for me to go to college to study specifically for footwear."
Edwards ended up getting a job at LA Gear, where he worked on shoes, including the legendary Catapult. He went on to work for Karl Kani and Skechers before coming to Nike, where he designed the Air Jordan XXI and XXII. His designs have sold a billion dollars around the world.
But Edwards never forgot about that path that wasn't available to him. So in 2010, he started his own school, Pensole, in Old Town. It's still the only sneaker design school in the country. His philosophy is to rebuild education to suit everyone so that his students graduate with the knowledge their employers need. To that end, Pensole partnerships range from Parsons to MIT to Foot Locker to Adidas.
The thing Edwards is most excited about isn't just the shoe design school, it's the design of the shoe design school—which is closely modeled on trade schools to better prepare his artistic students for the trade they want.
"What we do could be applied to multiple industries, and quite honestly should be—from the perspective of how we go about structuring the academy and how the kids learn and how we work with companies," he says. "There's just a massive disconnection between education and corporate America. If schools were held accountable with what they taught students in conjunction with the ratio of them getting employed, we'd probably have a lot of schools close. But you will see education is going to close, because kids are getting disenchanted with being there four and five and six years, leaving with a mortgage and with no opportunity for employment."