The sneaker industry struggles with diversity — not just in its designs, but the people behind them. Pensole Design Academy, with the help of Foot Locker and New Balance, is looking to change that with a new program aimed at offering opportunities to those who are underrepresented in the industry. Dubbed “Designing with Sole,” the effort focuses on those interested in footwear and apparel design and marketing.
Marginalized communities, particularly the Black community, have been so influential to the sneaker industry — but when it comes to representation behind the scenes, those same communities are underrepresented. And while sneaker companies, including bigger names like Nike and Adidas, struggle to make a safe space for minorities, smaller communities have begun to take matters into their own hands.
A chance to learn from the pros — According to the design academy, the project will create a path for marginalized voices in the industry, and will be offered at no cost to the participants. “Inspiring and empowering youth culture includes investing in their future and uplifting the voices of those who haven’t been heard,” Foot Locker chairman and CEO Dick Johnson said in a statement. “As part of our $200 million commitment to support the Black community, we’re proud to work with great brands like New Balance and Pensole on the creation of programs like these, which create opportunity and open doors within our industry that have been closed for too many.”
Registration for the program is now open on Pensole’s website and will close on June 7. In total, 160 people will be selected by Pensole and New Balance to partake in the project, with finalists revealed on June 21.
Once chosen, participants will begin the first portion of the remote program on June 28, which comes to an end on July 23. From there, only 60 students will be selected for a 12-week learn-by-doing program in which they team up and explore the product creation process. This second portion will feature insight from New Balance design directors, designers, design recruiters, technicians, and developers.
Bringing inclusivity to the industry — At the end of the “Designing with Sole” project, the top 10 students will attend an in-person course at New Balance. Those based in North America have a chance to land a paid internship with Foot Locker and New Balance, hopefully inspiring more diversity and new ideas at both companies.
Noting past projects with the two brands, Pensole founder D’Wayne Edwards said in a statement: “This year, we’re focusing on aspiring designers in communities that have long supported sneaker culture but sadly have been uninvolved in its product creation. ‘Designing With Sole’ will be a significant step in correcting that inequity.”