Dr. D’Wayne Edwards Was Rejected From Foot Locker 8 Times. Now He’s One of the Retailer’s Key Partners

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As a legendary footwear designer and president of Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design, Dr. D’Wayne Edwards is a household name in shoe world. But when it came to his journey with Foot Locker, it took several years for a solid relationship to form.

“My relationship with Foot Locker started many decades ago,” said Edwards during a Thursday speech at Foot Locker’s 23rd Annual “On Our Feet” fundraising gala, which helps raise money for a scholarship program. “It evolved in a direction I didn’t even see coming and I couldn’t even imagine.”

Edwards, who runs the country’s first HBCU focused on design and helps place people from underrepresented groups in footwear jobs, said he began his journey with Foot Locker in the 1980s as a sneaker consumer. Eventually, he decided to apply to work at his local Foot Locker store, but was met with rejections — eight of them, to be exact.

“It took me about eight tries, and after the eighth no, I decided maybe it’s not my future to work at Foot Locker,” Edwards said.

The story, however, didn’t end there.

“About a year after my last rejection at Foot Locker, I walked into the same Foot Locker store, and I had a shoe on the wall that I designed,” said Edwards, referring the first ever shoe he designed, the LA Gear Steet Hiker. “My journey with Foot Locker evolved from not becoming an employee to being a vendor for Foot Locker through the brands that I worked with.”

Since then, Edwards’ relationship with Foot Locker has continued to grow. Close to 36 years later, Edwards said a shoe of his has sold every single day at Foot Locker since 1990.

And when he retired as a designer in 2010, Edwards connected with Foot Locker once again, this time as a educator. After having been only the second Black designer entire industry in 1989, Edwards devoted the next chapter of his career to empowering young people from various backgrounds to enter the industry. In 2014, Foot Locker partnered with Pensole, which was then a design school located in Portland, Ore., on a program called “Fueling the Future of Footwear,” an annual master class design competition. And in 2019, Foot Locker announced a strategic investment in Pensole.

In February, PLC in Detroit announced the opening of the Foot Locker Footwear Creation Stu/deo, a 5,000-square-foot design space on campus that features shoemaking workshops, sample making services, small footwear production capabilities and more.

Today, Pensole Lewis College offers free education for its students, which is funded in part by Foot Locker and other major companies.

“The journey from a consumer all the way through 30-something years culminates to where I am today with Foot Locker,” Edwards said. “And that journey has been priceless to me, even though I still didn’t get a job and didn’t get the [employee] discount, it’s all right. We worked it out.”

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