Sneaker Design Academy Prepares Students for Careers in Footwear

PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy // YouTube
PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy // YouTube / PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy // YouTube

Aspiring fashion designers have plenty of options to choose from when pursuing higher education—unless they dream of designing sneakers. Basketball shoes have grown into a major sector of the fashion industry; in 2014, Nike’s line of Jordan sneakers alone garnered $2.6 billion in U.S. sales. But for young shoe designers looking to get their foot in the door, it can be hard to know where to start. D’Wayne Edwards set out to change that when he opened the Pensole Footwear Design Academy in 2010.

As Fast Company reports, the school is the first design academy focused around sneakers. Edwards, who’s created shoes for brands like Sketchers and Nike, launched the institution after struggling to find designers to hire straight out of college. He saw a lack of opportunities for young people to make the transition from their formal education to a career in shoe design, so he founded a school that puts footwear front-and-center.

The Portland, Oregon-based academy aims to fit a full semester’s worth of content into classes that span three to four weeks. Days average 14 straight hours, a choice Edwards consciously made to model the classroom experience after life in the design industry. Skills like prototyping and consumer research are taught by real sneaker professionals who come from companies like Nike and Adidas. Tuition and housing is fully covered by the brands sponsoring the program: All students have to do is be one of the 18 selected out of the 850-odd candidates who apply for each class.

This year, that applicant number reached 1400 for one special program. As part of a project called “Fueling the Future of Footwear,” Edwards led a team of students to create designs for a new Asics sneaker. After drafting up 40 different ideas, a winning design was selected to be made into a real-life product that will appear on the shelves in select Foot Locker stores beginning on September 17.

“The beauty of the process is that it’s never going to be perfect,” Edwards says of the project in a video from Footlocker. “For [students] to understand that becomes the actual design challenge: How can you achieve perfection within an imperfect system?”

[h/t Fast Company]

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at