Former Jordan Brand Designer Debuts New Sneaker from Black-Owned Footwear Factory

Former Jordan Brand designer and founder of the Pensole Footwear Design Academy, Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, unveils the inaugural shoe from the JEMS by Pensole brand. This sneaker is the first full-scale production to come from the first Black-owned footwear factory in the United States, located in Somersworth, New Hampshire.

The JEMS by Pensole “First JEM” is a culmination of creativity and Black history as the sneaker is a tribute to Jan Ernst Matzeliger, whose initials lend themselves to the “JEMS” brand name.

Jan Ernst Matzeliger, a Black Dutch immigrant, changed the entire footwear industry over 140 years ago in 1883 when he developed a patent for a lasting machine. The technology from his patent is still used in footwear manufacturing today.

The FIRST JEM celebrates Matzeliger’s little-known legacy. His invention of the Lasting Machine in 1883 revolutionized the way shoes are made and is still used today.

We’re celebrating his legacy and embodying that same revolutionary spirit, seeking to bring opportunity to new design talent and influence the face of the footwear industry.”            

Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, founder of JEMS by Pensole and Detroit-based Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design

The JEMS by Pensole “First JEM” is hand-crafted with leather finishes and features details inspired by Jan Ernst Matzeliger’s legacy. A portrait of the historic inventor is seen on the outsole, with a brief history of his work printed in metallic bronze.

The sneaker has an “Off White” and “Beige” upper with suede panels on the medial. The lasting machine is shown on the sock liner, while the JEMS badge logo is made in the shape of a diamond to symbolize the gem that Matzeliger was, and the future gems to come from the JEMS by Pensole brand.

The “First JEM” was launched on Matzeliger’s birthday, Sept. 15, and was designed by Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, who got his start in footwear with no formal education. Dr. Edwards now has over 30 years of experience in the footwear industry, working for some of the best in the game, namely Jordan Brand. 

In April of 2011, Dr. Edwards felt called to take his career in a new direction when he launched the Pensole Footwear Design Academy to help create opportunities for aspiring designers hailing from underrepresented communities.

Then in 2022, Dr. Edwards founded JEMS, the first Black-owned athletic footwear factory in the United States. JEMS exist to empower the next generation of creatives by offering greater accessibility to manufacture their own brand and create a more diverse industry.

To launch the sneaker, the JEMS by Pensole team has partnered with Designer Brands Inc. (DSW) as their official retail partner. All future JEMS by Pensole drops will be sold exclusively at and select DSW stores.

Diversity drives innovation and brings new thinking, designs and products to consumers, yet Black representation sits at less than five percent across all design industries.

We’re excited to partner with Dr. Edwards on the JEMS by PENSOLE line. FIRST JEM is just the beginning step in our goal to forge entrepreneurial opportunities for underrepresented footwear designers and make their vision and designs accessible to our customers at DSW stores.

Bill Jordan, Designer Brands President

Designer Brands Inc. and JEMS by Pensole plan to utilize the new Somersworth factory to roll out future lines of athletic footwear by new brands and underrepresented designers in the coming years.

The JEMS by Pensole “First Jem” is available now. To purchase, visit The retail price is set at $200. For more sneaker news and release dates, follow @NiceKicks on Instagram.

JEMS by Pensole “First Jem”

Colorway:Off White/Beige
Style #:567903
Release Date: September 15, 2023
Price: $200

JEMS by Pensole “FIRST JEM”

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