The first day at a university is replete with hope and promise. The smell of a new classroom unencumbered by approaching deadlines and brimming with excited students eager to impress is palpable. For many of us who have since left the realm of higher education, the feeling you experience on that first day of school is a privilege that we no longer get to enjoy. This is why, as I walk into the sun drenched lobby of the Lewis College of Business and Design building I am hit with a wave of nostalgia.
The former HBCU had closed its doors in 2013 after a rich and storied past. On May the 2nd, 2022, the college has reopened its doors to once again, adding its name to the list of the 107 HBCUs in the United States.
Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design, the brainchild of legendary footwear designer D’Wayne Edwards, has recently become the latest addition to the ever-evolving city of Detroit. The college was established through the marriage of Edwards’ Oregon-based Pensole Design Academy and the Lewis College of Business and Design. Its entrance into the city of Detroit will import a new wave of talented, young designers into the city, adding to its prestigious history as a “City of Design”.
The college held its electrically charged first day of class by inviting 31 students from all over the United States to attend its inaugural semester. The student body is made up of a diverse crowd of young hopefuls. This diversity is by design, as one of Edwards main goals with Pensole is to weave a more eclectic crowd of talent into an industry where only 5 percent of the people who make up its staff are Black. The fact that this number is so small is mind-bogglingly absurd, as the most affluent shoe endorsers tend to be Black athletes and musicians. These lucky few are given the opportunity to design footwear under the tutelage of world-renowned Black design instructors, like legendary shoe designer E.Scott Morris.
The college offers it’s students five-to-six-week programs that have been fabricated in collaboration with design companies to meet industry needs and offer a new standard of excellence for those wishing to enter the world of footwear design. Collaborators in the past have included brands like Nike (the company where founder Edwards’ held a position as design director), Adidas, and Asics. These partner brands make it possible for Pensole to offer a “majority tuition-free” education to it’s students and guaranteed jobs for the lions-share of it’s graduates.
Now that Pensole has set up shop within Detroit, it was only fitting that the initial partner brand be one of the city’s most indispensable and enduring companies, Carhartt. Throughout this year’s program, students are set with the task of working in groups to not only design something for the illustrious brand, but to pitch their ideas for new products that could potentially become part of Carhartt’s line. The teams will begin large and slowly be whittled down to just four students who will will be awarded with a design internship at Carthartt.