Angela Medlin Is Cultivating The Next Generation of Black Woman Designers

In August, Footaction made an open call to over 85 HBCUs to participate in a six-week digital and in-person design intensive, No 1 Way Design program. Hundreds of students applied to be a part of the program by sending in their designs, but, only 10 students were selected to participate in the FAAS at PENSOLE online program to refine their designs. From there, the competition was cut in half and the top five finalists (who so happen to be five young women) relocated to Portland for a three-week, hands-on design academy at the FAAS Studio at PENSOLE.

As a part of PENSOLE’s strategic partnership with Footaction through Footlocker Inc., D’Wayne Edwards selected the founder of FAAS (The Functional Apparel & Accessories) at PENSOLE, Angela Medlin to lead the six-week intensive online course and onsite intensive in Portland.

This year’s challenge was to design functional apparel for the chance to win cash prizes, the opportunity to have their designs showcased at New York Fashion Week in February 2020, and the opportunity to have their designs sold at Footaction stores nationwide and online.

Related: Five Young Women from HBCUs are Top Contestants in Footaction’s No 1 Way Design Program

Medlin is a fashion industry veteran who graced the pages of BLACK ENTERPRISE in ’93 for her accomplishments at Cross Colours Inc as a fashion designer. Since then, she has made her mark on the industry at Adidas, Eddie Bauer, The North Face, Levi’s.

As you could imagine, navigating the fashion and design industry 30 years ago was no crystal staircase. Medlin entered the industry after working endlessly on her design portfolio after graduating from NC State with a degree in environmental design.

Related: 6 Black Fashion Labels to Know, Celebrate, and Support

Right before founding FAAS in 2017, Medlin was the design director for Jordan apparel at Nike. Now, she’s helping young creatives design their futures through FAAS and the No 1 Way Design program in partnership with Footaction.

The top five contestants for the Footaction x PENSOLE No 1 Way Design with Angela Medlin, founder of FAAS. (Image: Footaction)

“With 30 years in the industry, I have officially covered every category you could possibly design in apparel. Be it streetwear, denim, outerwear, activewear, athleisure for women, men and children; and now dogs! I have a lot of experience seeing the industry from different angles. And, from one job to the next, it was the problem-solving that stuck with me throughout the entire movement of going from place to place. Fast forward 30 years, I founded FAAS because I really want people or designers who are coming into the next generation to be mindful of what they’re designing,” says Medlin.

FAAS is transforming the way people design and wear apparel

FAAS Studio instructs students on the best practices and processes that simulate the true apparel design experience as performed in global companies such as Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and others. In Partnership with PENSOLE Academy, students receive direction and mentorship from leaders with a combined 90 years of exceptional design experience and leadership in the apparel and footwear industry.

“What makes the Functional Apparel and Accessories Studio different from traditional apparel design programs is the operative word functional. Everything has a reason to be. Everything from color to material to construction. What they’re learning is to create a product that either enhances your superpower or gives you that armor that’s going to protect you from day to day,” says Medlin.

As the instructor of the NO 1 Way Design program, Medlin has made it her goal to make sure that the students are able to learn the fundamentals of design and are able to get hands-on experience with the latest design technology.

In partnership with the Portland Apparel Lab, FAAS provides students the opportunity to learn cutting-edge technology. One of those technologies is the 3-D software, Browzwear, which the students used to create their designs.

Students working at the Portland Apparel Lab (Image: Footaction)

The 3-D development is new to the industry and PENSOLE is the first career school to incorporate it into their programs. Browzwear is the leading provider of 3-D fashion design, development, and merchandising solutions. And according to the Sourcing Journal, Browzwear is helping brands to be more sustainable in the design process by developing the right products quickly while reducing waste.

“The software is efficient and eliminates rounds of prototypes in the pre-production process. The actual prototypes built through this provider will look close to a pre-production sample,” Medlin adds.

Medlin is also a mentor

“A lot of what I’m teaching is life skills. Once you have these skills, you can apply them to any anywhere in anything that you do. When I’m sitting and having conversations and giving the students the answers to all the questions I’ve already asked over the years—I feel like they’re starting at a higher place. They get to become amazing faster and in half the time that I did it or less,” says Medlin.

She went on to say, “It’s exciting for me to know that the person that I needed in my life at once upon a time now exists in me, and I get to give that to someone.”

When speaking to the contestants of the design program and competition, each of the young women expressed their gratitude for Medlin paving the way for them as one of the first and few black women within the industry.

“I lead by giving them the opportunity to learn while they’re doing things. They’re learning through conversation, they’re learning through making, and through designing. Just knowing them individually and leading them individually towards their goal is it’s exciting for me every time I talked to one person to the next. They’re problem-solving for their own life. And, I’m teaching them that skill for the industry. While they’re here, they’re actually like figuring out that there is no one way to do something,” says Medlin.

Under Medlin’s leadership, the young women participating in the program have been equipped with more skills than they arrived in Portland with.

Related: The Black Man Who Designed Some of Your Favorite Jordans Is Teaching Others How To Design Footwear

Representation matters

With less than 20 women leading in the design and apparel industry, Medlin and Edwards are increasing the probability of those numbers changing in the near future. And, Medlin says that was the plan.

As someone who is passionate about diversity and representation, Medlin created a blog on the FAAS website to highlight people of color within the industry.

“I had a very hard time finding representatives to interview for that blog. But now, those coming up in the industry have plenty of resources. They’ll (the young women) will have each other. Usually, when there’s an intense class like this, people will know each other for the rest of their career,” says Medlin.

To that point, “They don’t have to enter the industry in the mindset that you have to be super competitive with each other. They get to see the real version of the apparel world and take that back and do whatever they’re going to do next—knowing that they get to create how they navigate how they journey through the industry,” she adds.

The No 1 Way Design Program presented by Footaction has created a community for young black designers from HBCUs that did not exist before.

PENSOLE, FAAS, and Footaction are changing the narrative for designers. And the competition, no matter who wins or loses, will change the lives of the young women who have invested in becoming their best selves.