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The next generation of shoe designers aren’t wasting any time jumpstarting their careers, thanks to entrepreneurs Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, who are bringing their creative expertise to Southern California high schools through a partnership with Adidas and Pensole.
Last fall, the Beats co-founders organized a series of “Wood U” workshops through the Iovine and Young Academy – an educational startup that the pair started at University of Southern California in 2013 – where students from Inglewood were able to design their own sneakers all the way up through production. Through the six-week long course, other creatives such as the West Coast rapper D Smoke dropped in to offer their support and guidance.
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The final products, which launched at select Adidas stores on Feb. 7, were showcased at an outdoor pep rally at Audobon Middle School last weekend, where Pensole founder Dr. D’Wayne Edwards took the stage to explain the creative process and his own mission to empower young kids to pursue a career in design.
“When you have less than 5% African Americans in the entire field of design, that’s disgraceful, considering the economic power we have as a consumer,” Edwards tells Variety. “And for us not to be in the corporations designing the product that we want to buy, it’s hypocritical — because our industry promotes black folks in ads telling these kids that they can be successful but only if they have a ball or a microphone in their hands. These kids grew up thinking that that’s the only way that they can be successful, so I think being able to show them that there are other options is the most critical part.”
Catering to Inglewood students in particular was no accident. Edwards attended Inglewood High School himself before going on to become a trailblazing designer for brands such as Nike and Jordan, and, of course, ultimately founding his own footwear design academy with Pensole. It’s also one reason why D Smoke, who stars in the “Wood U” campaign video and performed at the pep rally, became involved. While on stage, the Grammy-nominated rapper spoke of his mother who attended Audobon Middle School and whose experiences shed light on the importance of creating opportunities for disenfranchised communities in South L.A.
The workshops are only the beginning of a long-term plan that Iovine and Dr. Dre have dreamt up, though. The power duo is launching a new high school with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in Sept., 2022, which will be located on the same campus as Audobon Middle School and will have 120 open slots for ninth and tenth graders interested in design, business and technology. Much like the Iovine and Young Academy, students will be able to gain hands-on experience through an innovative curriculum centered around the creative industries they’ll encounter in the real world. But this time around, Iovine and Dr. Dre are preparing budding entrepreneurs as early as high school, with tentative plans to extend the program to middle schoolers in the future.
“These kids don’t know what their potential is until someone creates that path for them to see it,” Edwards says, “And in some cases, you might have to hold their hand, you have to trick them into learning. So I’m bringing my effort to the table, but I put it on my students to not settle for anything less than great.”