New Foot Locker Footwear Creative Studio Opens in Detroit

Michigan’s only historically Black college is now home to a shoemaking design and creation studio.

The Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design (PLC), the first and only historically Black college in Michigan, officially opened its Foot Locker Footwear Creation Studio this week. The new studio offers a vast space for students to explore the design and art behind shoemaking.

Pensole Lewis College is the only historically Black college in the country with a focus on design. It was first opened by Dr. Violet T. Lewis as the Lewis College of Business in 1938 and was officially designated as an historically Black college in 1987. The school closed in 2015.

After five years of planning and networking, Dr. D’Wayne Edwards revived the school and now serves as its president. Out of the 20 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country that have closed in the last century, PLC is the first to be reopened.

Dr. Edwards is often referenced as the most successful Black designer in the footwear industry. He has worked in design for over 30 years, mostly on the West Coast, and moved to Detroit to reopen PLC.

“To be able to open a design-focused HBCU in a city known for design is something I couldn’t dream of. And I dream a lot,” Dr. Edwards said at the studio’s opening event on Feb. 28, 2024. “It’s been amazing to be here and work with all of these students and bring new students and designers to the city.”

At the event, City Councilman Coleman Young II presented Dr. Edwards with a Spirit of Detroit Award for his service to the city.

PLC’s Footwear Design programs teach students the entire product creation process and skills including brand research, consumer thinking, material fundamentals, color application, and more. These programs and the Footwear Creation Studio allow students’ career paths to sway toward a wide range of job opportunities in the footwear industry. Hundreds of former students now work for popular brands like Nike, Jordans, Adidas, Timberland, and others.

Dr. Violet Ponders is the granddaughter of Violet T. Lewis and has played a vital role in the reopening of PLC and the new Creation Studio.

“This is a place where people get to be creative. When you walk through the hallways, there is a sense of creativity here that doesn’t exist in any other place,” Ponders said of the studio. “People are bound to be who and what they are, but they are trained here to take that raw talent and move it forward. That’s what Violet T. Lewis was about.”

The Foot Locker Creation Studio houses several special sewing machines and other tools designed for shoemaking, like shoe sanders. The bright-colored walls are decorated with students’ art and footwear creations. All of PLC’s creative studios are designed by students. PLC partnered with Foot Locker, Target, the Gilbert Family Foundation, and Bedrock to make this studio possible.

Lt. Gov. Garland Gilchrist said the opening of the Creative Studio at Michigan’s only historically Black college was a great way to close out Black History Month.

“The people who will come through this institution, both young and less young, will be better equipped to change the world. And what are we, as Michiganders, if we don’t change the world?” Gilchrist said. “It is so exciting to even attempt to imagine what is possible.”

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