Designer Brands Breaks Diversity Barriers in Footwear Industry With the Debut of JEM Sneaker — Retail Bum

Retail Bum
2 min readSep 21, 2023

Designer Brands, the parent company of DSW, is reinstating its commitment to improving diversity in the footwear industry with the launch of its FIRST JEM sneaker.

The shoe is the first product to come out of the New Hampshire-based JEMS by PENSOLE factory, which focuses on producing shoes designed by Black creators. It has been developed by footwear design expert Dr. D’Wayne Edwards.

With three decades of experience crafting sneakers for major brands, Dr. Edwards has made a name for himself in the footwear industry not only for his designs but also for creating pathways for future talents. As the founder of Pensole Lewis College, he has helped transform the educational landscape, offering a distinctive learning experience that prepares students with essential skills for success in footwear product creation.

In 2022, Dr. Edwards founded JEMS by PENSOLE, the first Black-owned athletic footwear factory in the United States. The factory was established to empower the next generation of creatives by providing access to footwear manufacturing, making the industry more diverse and inclusive.

The FIRST JEM Sneaker: A Tribute to Jan Ernst Matzeliger

The FIRST JEM sneaker pays tribute to Jan Ernst Matzeliger, an unsung industry hero. Matzeliger played a vital role in revolutionizing the shoemaking process, and this sneaker’s design weaves his story into every detail.

The shoe embodies Matzeliger’s innovations, incorporating elements that honor his work in mechanizing the shoemaking process. Beyond its functionality, the FIRST JEM sneaker symbolizes progress and inclusivity in the industry.

Availability and Future Drops

The FIRST JEM sneaker is available exclusively at DSW stores and, Additional releases are planned for next month to ensure that this transformative project reaches a broad audience.

Photo credit: Designer Brands

Originally published at on September 21, 2023.