Designer Brands, JEMS by PENSOLE launch the FIRST JEM, Inaugural Shoe From One of the First Black-Owned Footwear Factories in U.S.

by savoystaff

Designer Brands, one of the world’s largest designers, producers and retailers of footwear and accessories,  unveiled the FIRST JEM, the inaugural shoe from the JEMS by PENSOLE brand. This momentous occasion marks the first shoe to roll off the assembly line at one of the first Black-owned footwear factories in the U.S. Based in Somersworth, NH, the factory opened earlier this year as part of a partnership between Designer Brands and JEMS by PENSOLE focused on creating opportunity for underrepresented Black designers in the footwear industry.

The FIRST JEM, available exclusively at, is a shoe with a story unlike any other. While many sneakers are designed for or inspired by consumer lifestyle insights, trends, influencers, and professional athletes, the FIRST JEM is inspired by American history through the lens of a Black man who changed an entire industry over 140 years ago: Jan Ernst Matzeliger.

“The FIRST JEM celebrates Matzeliger’s little-known legacy,” said legendary footwear designer Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, founder of JEMS by PENSOLE and Detroit-based Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design, the only design-focused Historically Black College & University in the country. “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.”

To truly memorialize Matzeliger’s impact, the FIRST JEM launches on his birthday, Sept. 15. With a hand-crafted leather finish and rich history in every stitch, this one-of-a-kind sneaker is a celebration of the past and a look at the future. The Lasting Machine is shown on the sock liner, while the JEMS badge logo represents the most valuable gem of all — a diamond — symbolizing the gem that Matzeliger was, and the future gems that JEMS by PENSOLE will foster. Even the acronym, JEMS, stands for Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio.

“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,” said Designer Brands President Bill Jordan. “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.”

Designer Brands 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. JEMS by PENSOLE will be sold exclusively at and future drops will be available at select DSW stores.


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