The Oregonian: Portland State, former Nike designer partner for footwear program targeting black designers
Author: Allan Brettman, The Oregonian
Posted: April 9, 2014

Read the original story here in The Oregonian.

Portland State University is partnering with footwear design academy Pensole to bring students from historically black colleges and universities to Portland starting in 2015.

The program is intended to be a step toward bringing more people of color into the athletic footwear design industry, which is dominated by Nike. Also, the students would be coming from other parts of the United States to study in the whitest major city in America.

The program would be designed to meet a need in the area's footwear industry, said Lauren Beitelspacher, director of PSU's Athletic and Outdoor Program.

"One of the things we've heard in the industry is that there just aren't a lot of women and minorities applying for positions," Beitelspacher said.

PSU and Pensole founder D'Wayne Edwards are targeting the six-month program to start in January with five students. At the conclusion, the students would earn a certificate in PSU's Athletic and Outdoor Industry program.

Unlike most certificate students, these students' experience would include footwear design and mentorship with Edwards, the former Nike and Jordan Brand footwear designer who started his school in Old Town Portland in 2011. 

Edwards, who grew up in Los Angeles and was one of the first black footwear designers in the industry, said he had been thinking about establishing a program catering to black college students since the earliest days at Pensole.

While people of color represent a large segment of the athletic footwear industry customer base, few blacks and others are employed as designers, Edwards said.

He said Nike's ratio is better than most in the industry, with what he estimated to be half a dozen black designers among the 125 to 150 employed at the Oregon company.

"Our industry has a severe problem from a diversity point of view," Edwards said. Industry officials "all recognize the issue, they all want to resolve it, they just haven't done anything about it."

Initially, the PSU-Pensole program will work with six of the best known of the nation's historically black colleges and universities: Howard University in Washington, D.C.; Morehouse College in Atlanta; Fisk University in Nashville; Spelman College in Atlanta; Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala.; and Coppin State University of Baltimore.

The program will purposely have a small number of students initially "to control the experience," said Beitelspacher, director of PSU's A&O program. "It's important to our program and it's important to our university, so we want to do it right."

One of Edwards' former mentors at Nike, renowned designer Tinker Hatfield, said he supports the program.

"I'm all for it. I support this fully," said Hatfield, whose latest job title is "Nike Innovation Leader" and is who credited with several of the earliest footwear designs for Michael Jordan that led to creating Nike's subsidiary, the Jordan Brand. "It's something that's appropriate for this locale.

"Diversity is something we're all looking for and want to achieve," Hatfield said, "not just because it's a rule or a law but we have a diverse group of customers and it makes good business sense."

-- Allan Brettman