D’Wayne Edwards Discusses the PENSOLE World Sneaker Championship

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Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” We’re pretty sure Bruce wasn’t talking about sneaker design, but the shoe might fit in this situation.

PENSOLE founder D’Wayne Edwards is a man of many kicks, and forever a fan of Bruce Lee. While his resume of work from Nike to Jordan Brand features a long list of striking designs, it appears his continued practice of teaching others how to carefully craft kicks is truly his greatest feat.

In the midst of the World Sneaker Championship, we caught up with the man that Marc Dolce and countless others list as a mentor to hear about D’Wayne’s current passion project.

Nice Kicks: What is the concept behind the World Sneaker Championship?

D’Wayne Edwards: Instead of just doing a regular session around sneakers, I really wanted to celebrate sneaker culture — how diverse sneaker culture is and how diverse it’s become. It kind of shows mainstream media that sneakers aren’t just something that you play ball in. I really wanted to show the diversity of sneaker culture in regard to how the industry has evolved and how sneakers have actually helped the industry evolve.

Nice Kicks: This year’s roster of talent is global and also co-ed. How important is it that the people and cultures that make up the market are also represented on the industry side of the business?

D’Wayne Edwards: Part of telling that story is that sneaker culture is not just a US-based phenomenon, it’s global. It’s probably one of the few products that people can purchase that have that level of global appeal and common ground amongst a culture. The beautiful thing about doing this type of session is that I’ve got like 16 different accents in this class. What’s beautiful is that they all have this one thing in common, and it’s sneakers. For some of them, it’s tough for them to talk, but as soon as they start talking about sneakers their English gets better because they’re excited about it. It just becomes one of these things that transcends and it’s a global thing. I think it’s one of those unifying things that people kind of overlook and don’t really give a chance to express or talk about.

Nice Kicks: What’s been the initial reaction from the brand partners involved?

D’Wayne Edwards: When I set out to do this, my goal was to have the best [course] in the industry and to truly tell the story of the sneaker culture with an authentic point of view. You can’t do that without some of the brands that we have in the program. Even when I served it up to each brand individually, they totally got it because their individual businesses are global. They understand the culture. Not all of them to the nth degree, but they all understand that the culture is a powerful force that they want to be a part of. Not to mention that they would love to see what someone from Africa would do with their brand. [To learn] what sneaker culture look like in Africa, what sneaker culture look like in Honduras. I think that was one of the more intriguing parts – giving your customer base the opportunity to talk to you. That’s huge. And when I say talk to you, I mean they get a chance to design what they think it should be from their perspective, from their environment, from how the culture is in their country.

Nice Kicks: They always say teaching a skill also provides the person instructing with a better idea of the concept or the process. How has that been true for you?

D’Wayne Edwards: That is actually very true. When I first started this in December 2010, I was already 21 years in. When you’re [working in the industry] for a while, you don’t look at it the same. It becomes a bit more corporate, it becomes a bit less fun. It’s still an honor to do it, and I still loved it, but you start to develop a different relationship with it.

When I was able to start to teach and work with kids and be absent of the corporate mist of the business, it made me actually fall back in love with it. That’s because I was able to see the purity of the reason why I fell in love with it in the first place. It’s actually helped me as a person first, and then it’s helped me as a designer second, to appreciate the product more and pay attention to more of the details of what we do. It’s helped me a lot to just be able to step away and see it through a different lens.

Nice Kicks: How have you been inspired by PENSOLE students?

D’Wayne Edwards: My whole career, I’ve always worked with people who are better than me because that’s how you get better. Even during my [design] career, I’ve always surrounded myself with people who are younger and/or better because I feel like I’m always in a constant stage of learning myself. I want to be better just like they want to be better. Just as much as they’re learning from me, I’m learning from them. If I had to say what I learn from them specifically, I would say more so just to challenge and take more chances, to be a bit more open minded.

When you acquire a lot of information, you have to be disciplined enough to get rid of it when it’s time to receive new information. Sometimes we hold on to our baggage rather than just letting it go. I do different quotes from Bruce Lee at the school. One of the quotes that I gave them yesterday was, “In order for you to taste what’s in my cup, you must first empty your cup.” I think that’s one of the biggest issues that designers have – they never empty their cup. They rely on what they already know, so they can never be full. You can’t receive anything if your cup is always full or you think it’s always full.

Nice Kicks: What are some examples of PENSOLE success stories?

D’Wayne Edwards: We have about 78 students that are working professionally. For me, every one of them was a success story. If I was able to help them get to that dream job or help them get closer, then that’s the reason I created PENSOLE in the first place: to share the knowledge that I’ve acquired over time to help propel you to the next level in your design career.

There are students that are working at Nike, Jordan, adidas and Under Armour. I have several of them working out there, but I don’t have favorites. They’re like my kids, and you can’t have a favorite kid. For me, it’s really just seeing the light bulb turn on. That’s the success, when I can see a kid gets it and they take what they were able to learn here and propel that to a better portfolio, then they propel that portfolio to a job. And then, when they come back and teach. For me, that’s probably the proudest thing I have is when a former student comes back to teach the new students.

Nice Kicks: What can we expect moving forward from the World Sneaker Championship?

D’Wayne Edwards: One of the things I wanted to do is really let people see how it’s done. I think right now the majority of the sneaker culture only sees the finished result, and they never really get a chance to see the behind the scenes part. They don’t get a chance to see how it’s created and why things were done. Why was it this color? Why does this line look like this? How many versions do they go through until they get to the final one?

That was the thing that was always missing because it always rested within the company. I’ve always felt like there was that hidden part of the process that people would appreciate even more. My thought with the World Sneaker Championship was to actually invite the world in and say, “Hey, this is how creating sneakers works. This is how we start and this is how we finish.” Just really bringing you in and seeing the whole process from nothing to a finished, polished designed.

Nice Kicks: How can aspiring designers get involved with PENSOLE?

D’Wayne Edwards: Right now, it’s just to continue to check out our site to look for new classes that we launch. You can’t buy your way into PENSOLE. I don’t care how much money you have, it’s a talent and passion-based course. I accept students based off talent and passion, two things you can’t really teach.

If you’re not serious about designing footwear this might be the wrong place for you, because we work hard. I work my students the same way I used to work. I use to work 14 to 15 hour days, and these students are working 14 to 15 hour days for four straight weeks. If you do something that much, you have to love it at some level. There has to be some level of passion associated with it. So, for us, the best way is to follow us is to check our website and catch a program. It might not be in Portland, it may be in another country or another city. We only do a few every year, but if you’re serious about it and you work on your craft I’ll be working with you one day.

Keep up with PENSOLE via their site and Twitter account. Check NiceKicks.com for updates on the World Sneaker Championship via our Diaries series.

Lead image via D’Wayne’s profile by Fast Company. Bruce Lee quote via Brainy Quotes.

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