By D’Wayne Edwards
On May 23rd, 2011 another dream came true in my career. This is the day I stepped foot into PARSONS THE NEW SCHOOL FOR DESIGN as an Instructor. Who would have imagined, a black kid from Inglewood, California who could not afford to attend design school, would be teaching at the premiere fashion design school in the world?
Well, follow me for a few more lines and I will explain to you how God has a plan for all of us. Thanks to a dear friend, Ziba Cranmer, who asked me to meet her at Niketown in NY at 6pm. She wanted me to meet someone. That someone turned out to be two wonderful women by the name of Giardy Ritz and Sheila C. Johnson, who is the Chair of the Board of Governors of PARSONS. As Ms. Johnson was trying on running shoes, we were getting to know each other and I was explaining to her that there were not that many footwear designers of color in the industry and how I would like to change that by creating my own footwear design school called PENSOLE. The night ended with me attending the opening of the new SHEILA C. JOHNSON DESIGN CENTER at PARSONS as a special guest of Ms. Johnson.
The next night we elected Barack Obama as our 1st Black President. As an American that was a historic night but as a person of color it meant so much more because that was a moment that none of us EVER thought we would live to see and it confirmed to me that ANYTHING was possible.
Fast-forward a year later, out of the blue my dear friend Ziba strikes again when she introduced me to Nancy Nublin, who is the CEO of an amazing organization called DoSomething.org. During our conversation I explained to her my vision for PENSOLE and randomly she says, “You need to meet Joel Towers, who is the Dean of PARSONS so you can bring PENSOLE to PARSONS.” Huh? When Ziba, connected us she had no idea Nancy was connected to PARSONS.
I believe everything happens for a reason and here I am with 2 separate paths that are leading me back to a school I could not afford to attend growing up. A few months later I am at home on a Saturday and I get a call from Joel Towers…. Huh?
My 1st thought was how did he get my cell? Well he was calling to invite me to PARSONS so we can talk about bringing PENSOLE to PARSONS and a few weeks later I was sitting in the same building I was in 2 years earlier (SHEILA C. JOHNSON DESIGN CENTER) meeting with all of the Deans, Directors and other Administrators at PARSONS to present them my vision for PENSOLE.
On April 1st, 2011, I left my dream job as a JORDAN Designer. This was also something I never thought would happen to me either. Design for JORDAN? Huh?
I am truly blessed because most people don’t get a chance to achieve 1 dream and I have been blessed to achieve my 2nd as Founder of PENSOLE School of Footwear Design. The 1st official program was in summer 2010 at the University of Oregon taught by me, Matt Rhoades, Suzette Henri, Barb Parker and in partnership with Mesh01. Due to the success of our 1st program we attracted the premiere product design school in the world called Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA and we launched our second program with them in April of 2011.
A few weeks later, on May 23rd at 8am, I walked into the SHEILA C. JOHNSON DESIGN CENTER to teach PENSOLE @ PARSONS to 23 hand picked students from over 240 entries from around the world in MY classroom, 603. Huh?
I have had a blessed career as a footwear designer. I have traveled the world. I have worked for some of the premiere companies, top Designers and Athletes. But, this was right up there as one of my top career highlights.
DAY 1: Started with me establishing the rules and what I expect from each of them. My rules are simple:
1.Class starts at 9am and if you are late you have to do push-up or sit-ups for every minute you are late in front of the class. PENSOLE is as close to experiencing what an internship would be like at a corporation and this simply will prepare you to be on-time for when it is time to get a job.
2.Check your ego’s at the door and treat your classmates like you want them to treat you. At PENSOLE everyone is the same. Yes, some have talents that others don’t have yet, but it is your responsibility to uplift your classmates, not compete with them.
3.Close mouth does not get fed. My mother told me this when I was young. Simply, if, you need something ask.
Next all of the students introduced themselves in front of the class so we can get to know each other and much like my 1st program at U of O, this program is diverse with students from Denmark, Singapore, Spain, Poland, Canada, East, West, Midwest and down South.
I am glad this type of diversity is present because when these students become professionals, they will work with people from all over the world and this is a great start to understand how to work in a diverse environment. This diversity also always makes for some comic relief because of the different mix of cultures as students get to know each other.
Later I talked to the students about design because the question I get often from aspiring designers is “what type of design software or tools I should use to improve my [design] skills?” Hmmm, let’s look at the word [design];
design: To create, plan, make or invent something.
To live up to that definition, it requires you to “think”, so my reply to that question is “improving” your design thinking) skills, “improves” your design (thinking) skills. Computers can’t do that for you.
At PENSOLE to help students work on “improving” their design (thinking) skills we teach the fundamentals of problem solving and the only “tools” we use: pencil (wooden N0.2), paper, eraser (white), ruler, clay (Crayola), plastic knife and foot form (by STANCE).
We use these “tools” because if you remove all of the distractions of color and computer aided design and focus on the purity of what you are creating it forces you to focus on every thought and line you create. My theory is if you can master the fundamentals of design (thinking), when it is time to use design software, it will make what you have “created, planned, made or invented” come to life.
DAY 2: Started the day by asking every student, to draw what they thought a sneaker looked like and for them to keep it as a way to compare how much their skills will improve over the next 4 weeks. Little did they know that was the only sketch they would do for the rest of the week.
After that exercise we were honored to have my good friend Sean Williams from OSD (Obsessive Sneaker Disorder) bless us with a 3-part lecture series by the name of SOLEcial Studies. Over the next 3-days, Sean taught the students about History, Sociology, Political Science, Anthropology, Civics, Economics, Religion, Geography and Psychology all through the lens of footwear. Sean was the highlight of the week and the students are still buzzing about how much they learned and how they will never look at sneakers the same way. Look out for more OSD presents SOLEcial Studies classes coming soon.
Next, I paired the students into teams because in this industry you never do anything by yourself and it is important for everyone to understand what it means to be a team player and how to work with others. This is also a great way for people who have never met before get to know and grow with each other.
Now, that the teams are set, it is time to assign 23 unique projects to 23 unique aspiring designers. PENSOLE projects are designed to challenge a designer because as a designer you MUST be able to design anything. In my role as Footwear Design Director at JORDAN, I would review hundreds of portfolio’s every year and unfortunately 50% of the footwear designs I saw from students were basketball shoes. STOP! This industry does not hire specialist.
You will have to wait a few more weeks to see all the final projects but here is an example of one of the project briefs:
*Your task is to design the shoe of the future for the year 2022.
We ended the day on the topic of inspiration. What is it, how to get it and what to do with it? I walked them through the books, websites, places and stories I have collected over the course of my career for them to take note of and to help inspire and prepare them for the rest of the week.
DAY 3-5: Students will spend the rest of the week in and out of the class laying the foundation for their project by creating their Design Brief by doing research to identify their consumer, inspiration, materials and story they want to tell through their project.
Depending on the project students, we are out at playgrounds, museums, hotels, police stations, bowling alleys or retailers such as Louis Vuitton, Target, Footlocker and Whole Foods.
Oh, and after being pretty clear on day 1 about the expectations wouldn’t you know 2 students had to do push-ups or sit-ups on day 2? Yes, even the ladies. As the week went on more students had to do push-ups but no one had to do them twice except for 1 student that is up to 40 push-ups but I will not mention “her” name. We will keep that a class secret. Oh, and to show them I practice what I preach I was late coming back from lunch 11 minutes so I owe them 11 push-ups myself.
From this point on. I will fade to black and you will hear from my talented students as they share their daily recaps of what’s happening at PENSOLE @ PARSONS.