Although the look of sneakers is constantly evolving, the process of footwear design hasn’t changed much in the past few decades. Shoe designs still mostly happen on paper and are then sent overseas to be prototyped. At Pensole Footwear Design Academy, founded by footwear design legend D’Wayne Edwards, students learn skills such as prototyping and 3D design that forward-thinking shoe companies are starting to incorporate into their design workflows. Edwards wants Pensole students to be prepared for not only today but also the future of the industry.
D’Wayne Edwards, Founder, Pensole: Our goal is to make sure when you leave here, you’re better than what you were when you got in here, both from a mental state and a physical state. It just so happens we’re teaching you about shoes while you’re here.
What I like to tell kids is, I’m probably the most successful nonathlete in the history of sports, because even though I didn’t get a chance to play professionally, my shoes have graced every NBA floor, every Major League Baseball stadium, every NFL stadium.
Where I grew up, getting out of Inglewood [California] at 18 was a win. If you weren’t in jail or dead, that was my highest probability. Me sitting here with you, I’m bucking the norm.
The career was great, but I wasn’t satisfied. The reason I wasn’t satisfied was because I just didn’t see enough people who looked like me in this industry. I knew the companies weren’t doing too much about it, and I was creating products that kids were killing themselves over, quite honestly. That bothered me. I wanted to be able to give them another option where it’s like, okay, instead of being a consumer, why don’t you be a creator.
The education that they will learn here is exactly the way you will work when you work at a company. We will take them through the exact process that professional designers do every single day. We teach them everything by hand first. They have to graduate to a computer.
Anna Smith, Creative Director, Programs & Education, Pensole: For any type of designer, it’s good if you know how to make something or how something is made. Then you can design it better. The concept shop is our prototyping space. You can go and actually turn 2D drawings into 3D prototypes. When they have a understanding, they have that ability to learn and process things a lot quicker than other people who don’t have that experience.
Edwards: We wanted kids to learn the whole process the old-school way, so when they get into said company that doesn’t have a prototyping facility, they know how to go to the dumpster—they can go get some stuff and make and cobble stuff at their desk.
We’re trying to create kids that are ahead of the industry, not behind the industry or at the same pace of the industry. We want them to be ahead of the industry.
Smith: That visual representation of the product that you have in a 2D drawing, how will that turn out in a 3D shape?
Evan Stichhaller, Student, Pensole: 3D design is definitely a very integral part of how forward design is moving forward in the future. It just allows us to see our concepts come to life in 3D space. It’s one thing to have a sketch. It’s another thing to actually be able to see your product come to life virtually without even needing to create it.
Catalina Delgado, Graduate, Pensole: With 3D modeling, you can see the shoes in a different way faster, so the times are going to be short.
Edwards: Our future at Pensole is elevating 3D to be just as important as the designing of the product. Once you become really good at 3D modeling, you actually become a better designer.
Stichhaller: Not only is it beneficial for us here in terms of the learning environment, but it’s exponentially beneficial for a company in reducing cost and envisioning prototypes a lot easier.
Edwards: Digital tools should elevate your design, not dictate. If you can physically make stuff by hand and if you can model stuff on a computer, you will have more jobs waiting for you that you could decide where you want to work.
For me, it’s less about the shoe part. It’s more about the person part. My greatest hope for our students is to be better than me, have a better career than I have, and have a better life than I’ve had. That’s my greatest hope.