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The Winning Mindset That Leads To Unprecedented Rewards – Interview With Dr. D’Wayne Edwards

Written by: Nikki Gillis, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Nikki Gillis

A magnate footwear designer, forward-thinking educator, and prolific innovator, Edwards credits remaining humble and hungry as the key to his achievements. A native of Inglewood California, commonly known as the “City of Champions”, D’Wayne’s path to success started with his dream to be something no one had ever heard of, seen, or supported with his background. Ultimately that dream motivated him to sketch the blueprint to what he continuously proves to be the winning mindset that leads to unprecedented rewards- when opportunity knocks, kick the door down!

Dr. D’Wayne Edwards photo
If you are prepared, there will be a place for you.” – Dr. Violet T. Lewis

For starters, at the ripe age of 19 years old, D’Wayne became the youngest professional US footwear designer in a 75B dollar industry today. He has 50 original patents and has created over 500 styles of sneakers that have been worn in six Olympics and have graced all MLB, NFL, and NBA stadiums. His roster of premier clients includes legendary athletes such as Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, Carmelo Anthony, and Roy Jones. He’s set the tone as being a pioneer of the sneaker culture designing for West and East Coast entertainers such as Tupac, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, and Notorious B.I.G. His unique but rare ability to design without a luxury logo and marry the creativity of design details to a strong brand caught the eye of iconic brands such as LA Gear, Nike, Jordan, Adidas, Skechers, Footlocker, etc.


As an educator and sought-after motivational speaker, Dr. Edwards has taught and lectured at several premier schools such as ArtCenter, Parsons, MIT, and Harvard.


I recently caught up with D’Wayne to discuss the inspiration behind his winning mindset, the motto that he lives by, and what he teaches his students at Pensole Lewis College (PLC).


This winning mindset, “when opportunity knocks, kick the door down,”-how did you come up with this and what or who is the inspiration behind it?


This started way back from being a kid growing up in the 80’s in Inglewood, CA. My dream to be a footwear designer wasn’t normal in my culture and neighborhood. Inglewood streets were drug and crime infested, so I kept my obsession with drawing and be an artist to myself because I knew people wouldn’t understand. I was different, maybe a little weird and had a unique gift that I just didn’t know how to use. So, to be a young black male kid that makes it to see age 18 and not in jail was already success, to graduate was a blessing and to see age 21 was a miracle. I’m the youngest of 6 kids raised by my mother. I knew for a fact it was impossible for me to go to college despite my gift or talent as an artist because we didn’t have the money. Eventually I gave up on pursuing that dream and settled to just get a job and work, survive, and help take care of my family. Unfortunately, I lost 2 of my older brothers (Michael and Ronnie) whom I shared a special bond with that our mother blessed us with. All three of us had the gift of drawing and they both were better artist than me.


After high school, a close friend and I signed up to work at a temp agency. My friend was assigned to work at LA Gear, which he didn’t want to go because of where it was located. Of course, I knew this was a sneaker company, so the agency sent me to LA Gear since my friend didn’t go. I was an accounts payable clerk and quickly started asking others and HR how to be a shoe designer. I received the typical response to go to college, create a portfolio of my work and someone might review it. This triggered a deeper state of depression for me because I knew college was out of the question, and I had no idea what success looks like being from Inglewood. So, I kept drawing to escape my reality and disconnect from the real world. Little did I know those drawings would soon pay off. The company decided to setup wooden suggestion boxes throughout the office to get feedback from employees, offer suggestions for new designs, etc. For six months I would sketch my idea of new sneakers using a pencil on a three by five index card and drop them in the box.


One day over the intercom I was called to the president’s office. I just knew I was about to be fired. The president, a Jewish man named Robert Greenberg, invited me into his office and asked me was I the one submitting all the sneaker designs. I admitted it was me and apologized for doing so. I explained to him that I just love to draw and was hoping someone would see the designs and offer to give me some tips on how to become a designer. He then pulled out all 180 of my designs and told me he admired my ambition and would love to give me a chance to be a professional footwear designer. Next, he asked me to tell him a little about myself and what college I went to. I told him I just graduated from Inglewood High School seven months ago, which he couldn’t believe. For clarity he wanted to confirm that I was fresh out of high school, had no formal training and was an exceptional artist. I told him all the above are facts. He offered me the job and bought out my contract from the agency for $1000. I was instructed to return after the new year and work full-time for him. The month of December rolled around, and I turned 19. The next month in January I reported into my new design job and the rest is history.


I state all this to say, I was constantly looked down upon, even in school, my dream to become a footwear designer was silly to people around me, including my school guidance counselor. I was dismissed regardless of my talent because I didn’t go to college. My brothers were no longer here to fulfill their dream of being a designer, so the torch was passed to me to bring that dream to life and make it my reality.


I quickly realized- “I’m not supposed to be here.” Those few words kept showing up in my life being the humble guide I needed to stay my course. Mr. Greenberg took a chance, gave me an opportunity no one else would, and challenged me to elevate in my environment and this industry. He didn’t discriminate against me, or care what I looked like, where I came from and accepted me for who I was without a college degree. I didn’t have to, but I wanted to show him the chance he took on me will be worth it with any future opportunities I came across. I never lost sight of where I came from, how my mother and brothers inspired me, and I’d continue to kick doors down to diversify the footwear industry, and any other industries I can through my example.


To experience the levels of unprecedented success that you have, what motto do you live by and why?


I like to keep things simple, clear but impactful. My motto is figure out your gift, go get it, and pay it forward for others. As I mentioned before I knew I had a gift even though I wasn’t clear at the time on why I had it or how to use it to benefit me. When I was told my dreams were crazy, impossible, and not fruitful, I used that as fuel to stay my course, keep drawing and perfect my craft.


If you are different, accept that and see the positivity in it. During my time at Nike then transitioning to Design Director for the Jordan Brand, being complacent wasn’t an option. I had to see, where and how does this fit into my vision as a designer, educator, and innovator? When I started with the Jordan Brand, it was a 275M dollar brand. I helped elevate it to a 1.3B dollar brand. Which is why I have two principles that I live by.


One, haters are healthy. You need people to push you and when it comes from people who hate you, allow it to give you energy. The truth is, we all need a reason to do something that’s already inside of us. If it happens to be a hater or a projection of someone else’s insecurities, take it, welcome it, and use it as fuel to do better.


Two, I don’t believe in or use the word success. To me, success is a past tense word. One definition of it is: a favorable or desired outcome or result. If your focus is on a race that’s already started, you’re already losing. Therefore, I focus on what I want to happen. I pray on it, keep my focus, and get ready for what’s next.


What is Pensole Lewis College (PLC) and what do you teach your students?


PLC is the first and only HBCU with a focus on Design. My goal was to leverage the game and offer education to deserving students by removing huge barriers like social economics and financial strain. I’m proud to have taken up the torch from Dr. Violet T. Lewis who was one of the founders of Lewis Business College back in 1928. Her mission was to provide black women with the same secretarial skills she had acquired in college. She later went on to open another college in Detroit, MI. I’m grateful to have the blessings of her family and Detroit Business Leaders to carry this legacy on, which is how PLC was merged and rebirthed in 2021.


PLC is the pipeline for the footwear industry looking for future talent. We teach our students how to design sneakers, market sneakers and get direct access into the industry working for major brands such as Nike, JORDAN, Under Armour, Adidas, New Balance, Brooks, Vans, Puma, Timberland, etc. It’s an honor for us to have sent 700+ alums out into the professional working world partnering with our colleagues who are transparent and proudly put in the work to do their part to diversify the footwear industry and other surrounding industries.

Photo of Dr. D’Wayne Edwards and a man sitting in a couch.

To learn more about Dr. D’Wayne Edwards and PLC visit here.


Nikki Gillis Brainz Magazine
 

Nikki Gillis, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Nikki is a solopreneur, author, and seasoned ghostwriter. She has a never-ending dedication to impactful writing, which she believes is rooted in being conscious of your inner-self, mental-health, and personal development.To date, she’s penned 29 published books for first-time and best-selling authors and has written hundreds of feature articles and blogs for influencers. She takes great pride in being a rarely seen “publishing insider.” In her downtime she can easily be found traveling, attending concerts and spending quality time with her family and friends.

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