The first Black-owned footwear company has launched its inaugural shoe line

BY Preta Peace Namasaba September 30, 2023 6:03 AM EDT
Dr D'Wayne Edwards holding The FIRST JEM. Photo credit: JEMS by PENSOLE

Earlier this year, Dr. D’Wayne Edwards joined forces with Designer Brands to establish the Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio (JEMS), marking a significant milestone as the first-ever black-owned footwear and shoe factory. From this groundbreaking establishment, JEMS introduced its inaugural shoe, the FIRST JEM, under the JEMS by PENSOLE banner.

Diversity drives innovation and brings new thinking, designs and products to consumers, yet Black representation sits at less than five percent across all design industries. We’re excited to partner with Dr. Edwards on the JEMS by PENSOLE line. FIRST JEM is just the beginning step in our goal to forge entrepreneurial opportunities for underrepresented footwear designers and make their vision and designs accessible to our customers at DSW stores.” Bill Jordan, President Designer Brands

Dr. Edwards, the visionary behind Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design, founded the country’s first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) dedicated to reinvigorating the creative talents of the black community. This institution stands as the sole HBCU focused on nurturing careers in the design industry. In contrast, Designer Brands ranks among the world’s leading designers, producers, and retailers of footwear, having made a substantial $2 million investment in JEMS.

With over 30 years of experience as a seasoned shoe designer, Dr. Edwards brings an extensive portfolio to JEMS by PENSOLE, boasting over 50 patents and having crafted footwear for notable figures like Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and Michael Jordan. He holds three Mercedes Benz Fashion Awards and has seen his shoe designs gracing the stages of six Olympic games. President Barack Obama also recognized his contributions with the President’s Volunteer of Service Award. JEMS by PENSOLE is his dedicated effort to honor Black History and champion diversity.

The inspiration behind the JEMS brand stems from the remarkable Jan Ernst Matzeliger, a cobbler and shoemaker who, in 1883, invented the automated shoe-lasting machine. This innovation drastically increased shoe production from a mere 50 to a staggering 700 pairs per day, forever altering the landscape of the shoe manufacturing industry. Unfortunately, Matzeliger passed away before witnessing the profound impact of his invention, resulting in his story fading into obscurity. JEMS aims to spotlight the brilliance of this often-overlooked Black pioneer.

The FIRST JEM celebrates Matzeliger’s little-known legacy. His invention of the Lasting Machine in 1883 revolutionized the way shoes are made and is still used today. We’re celebrating his legacy and embodying that same revolutionary spirit, seeking to bring opportunity to new design talent and influence the face of the footwear industry.” Dr D’Wayne Edwards in SavoyNetwork

To commemorate Matzeliger’s legacy, the FIRST JEM was launched on September 15th, which coincides with Matzeliger’s birthday. In a nod to its inventor, the shoe’s sock liner features an image of the lasting machine. Additionally, the JEMS logo takes the form of a diamond, symbolizing the precious gem that Matzeliger was and representing JEMS by PENSOLE’s enduring commitment to the future. The FIRST JEM represents a harmonious blend of rich history and a promising future.

Furthermore, the FIRST JEM stands as a testament to diversity, encompassing the multifaceted aspects of individuals, their backgrounds, perspectives, talents, and skills. The introduction of this inaugural shoe marks the commencement of a journey to create opportunities for underrepresented designers and ensure their creations find their way to the public. The FIRST JEM is exclusively available at DSW stores.