Sandwiched between a wooden worktable and a row of industrial sewing machines, a tall public relations professional wearing gold kicks, skinny jeans, a long cardigan, and a sweatband stands bent at almost ninety-degrees with her fingers digging into a sneaker mounted on a plastic foot. The mold is called a las and is used to give shape to shoes as they’re being designed. The PR rep’s aim is to get the shoe off the last in under a minute and the ring of people around her cheer when, resorting to brute force, she rips the sneaker free.
This is one of the challenges in an event that our hosts at the Pensole Footwear Design Academy have dubbed the Kicks Combine — a series of footwear design and construction challenges whose aim is to help us better understand the experience of studying at the school.
Started in 2010 by D’Wayne Edwards, Pensole Footwear Design Academy is the only sneaker design school in the nation. Edwards is a luminary in the global footwear community, where he’s continually distinguished himself for the last 29 years. He worked on the legendary Catapult during his time with LA Gear, designed for Karl Kani and Skechers, and eventually landed at Nike, where he designed the Air Jordan XXI and XXII.
Still, with a seemingling endless reserve of talent, Edwards didn’t find it easy to break into the field of shoe design. Growing up in a single parent family in Inglewood, design school wasn’t a viable option. Instead, he began working as a file clerk with LA Gear. Ambitious from the jump, he spent six months placing a shoe design in the office suggestion box each and every work day. After exactly 180 of them, he got his first design job at age 19, making him the youngest professional footwear designer in the industry. Now, as the founder of Pensole, he gives talented young design students of any socioeconomic background a chance to learn from industry legends.
Along with other writers who cover coveted sneaker drops and culture, I was invited to the Pensole space for the Kicks Combine — a collab between Foot Locker, ASICS, and Pensole. The day marked the release of the Asics “Fresh Up” designed by Pensole students Brady Corum and Vince Lebon. The duo says their design was inspired by the impact of hip-hop culture and pulled from the textures and colors of turntables, microphones, and graffiti. It doesn’t take an expert to recognize those influences in the design.