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World-renowned Portland sneaker designer pushing through in tough times

Shoe designer D'Wayne Edwards, founder of Portland's Pensole Academy, has taken a big hit due to COVID-19. But he sees opportunity at the other end of the pandemic.

It all started with a No. 2 pencil.

Named one of the most influential people in sneakers, D'Wayne Edwards has designed shoes for some of the biggest names in sports, like Michael Jordan and Carmelo Anthony.

With decades of experience, he founded Pensole Design Academy in Portland. Hundreds of graduates have gone on to create for some of the top brands in the world. But like most businesses, Pensole was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

"We ended up having to cancel three classes that we had set up. We're in the process of rescheduling those classes with brands," said Edwards. "The brands have been great. We're working with Vans, Timberland, Allbirds, and Nike on some programming."

The 18 members of his staff saw their income suddenly cut off.

"We still kept them on their healthcare and everything, so that part is great," Edwards said. "Probably the most beautiful part of the situation is they all volunteered to continue to work."

While in-person classes aren't happening in their studios right now, Edwards isn't waiting around.

"We have design competitions, we have podcasts coming, downloadable tools coming, live sketch sessions and demos coming, so we have a lot of things in the works."

Pensole is working on ways to teach virtually and still be hands-on at the same time.

"We're testing some different software and camera techniques to try and be able to draw," said Edwards.  "So if someone draws something, they can upload it to us and we can draw right over the top of it.  They can see it in real time, exactly the way it would be if we were doing it in person."

Edwards wants to change the game and push what's next for the industry.

"We've been selling shoes the same way for decades and marketing shoes the same way for decades," he said. "This gives not only our industry, but even education an opportunity for a reset and I want to drive what that reset looks like."

In the meantime, a good deal on buying sneakers could be ahead.

"Amazing sales coming up when this is all over. There's a massive backlog of things happening. Every week that goes by, it's going to be better for the consumer. I think we'll see some unbelievable sales over the next three to six months," said Edwards.  "This is a global situation. The way people consume things, the way people value what's important and what they spend money on, all of that is going to be reset. To me, that's the exciting part, to see how these behaviors will change and who will be the brands, companies and individuals that are strategizing to be a part of that change, instead of reacting to the change."

For updates on classes or upcoming events at the Pensole Design Academy, visit pensole.com

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