Black people and black culture shape popular culture and fashion. Yet and still, leadership within the fashion industry does not often reflect the people from the communities in which they draw their inspiration from.
Some may argue that the lack of representation at the top is due to a skill or knowledge gap–while others may claim that there are many barriers to entry. In this case, both sentiments are true. That is why Footaction created the No 1 Way Design Academy in partnership with two Portland, Oregon based black-owned design academies PENSOLE and FAAS Studio to build a pipeline to get designers from historically black colleges and universities into the industry.
Footaction is committed to amplifying and celebrating the next wave of creative visionaries who continue to push the culture forward. As a part of that commitment, the design academy offers No 1 Way competition which aims to foster diversity of talent and champion the idea of creative individuality.
In August, Footaction made an open call to over 85 HBCUs to participate in a six-week digital and in-person design intensive. 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 (which so happen to be five young women) relocated to Portland for a 3-week hands-on design academy at the FAAS Studio.
The total program value is $15k per student. That includes the 3-week online workshop & mentorship, the 3-week in-studio FAAS masterclass, travel, and room and board.
The 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 their designs sold at Footaction stores nationwide and online.
For Footaction, the No 1 Way Design Program is a way to position students who might not typically have access into the fashion and design for success. Richard McLeod, Vice President of Marketing at Footaction has worked closely on the program from its inception down to the selection process of the students and says that there is no one way into the industry or to success.
In his first year with Footaction, McLeod has been able to shift the culture with the No 1 Way Design Academy.
“In partnership with PENSOLE we wanted to ensure that we are building upon the brand’s purpose–which is really about how we amplify and celebrate the new creative visionaries that are moving the culture forward,” says McLeod.
To get a behind the scenes look at the competition; we joined Footaction, the founders of PENSOLE, FAAS Studio, and the finalists in Portland to learn more about their design journeys before the winners are announced.
For the first part of this series, we would like to introduce you to this year’s No 1 Way Design Program students. In parts two and three, you’ll meet the founders and leaders of PENSOLE Design Academy and FAAS, D’Wayne Edwards and Angela Medlin.
Meet the Students
This year, the competition dwindled down to five incredible young women representing Clark Atlanta University, Dillard University, and Tuskegee University.
Brianna Thomas, Dillard University
What led you on a path to design?
My passion led me in this direction. Right now I’m in school getting my bachelor’s in marketing. I always knew that I wanted to be a fashion designer. But as I got older, I didn’t know how I would arrive at that point. So I just tried to keep my options open and it took all opportunities that came my way when it came to me enjoying myself doing fashion or doing design or creating and sewing.
What is it like being among your peers of fellow HBCU students/grads who are working towards that goal of being the best in the industry?
This is something that I’m glad to be a part of, and especially with other young women and young designers that are from other HBCUs and have a similar goal. I’m just really glad to share this experience with them. Because I’m even learning from them. We’ve all had a different experience in our design journey, but now coming here and also learning at FAAS under the tutelage of Ms. Angela it’s really just bringing it all together and making it like wow 100% like I’m so glad I got this opportunity.
What would winning mean to you?
Winning this would be amazing! I realized the opportunity to even be showing a piece at New York Fashion Week is a huge opportunity. Some people in the industry work their entire career and they don’t get here.
Chakierrah Stinson, Tuskegee University
You are a self-taught designer with over 45,000 followers on Instagram who stan for your designs! What inspired you to create and where do you draw your inspiration from?
A lot of my influence comes from stuff that I see online, movies, and the world around me. I take what I’ve seen and try to make it sportier and street-wear inspired. I always try to give people something that they haven’t seen. I don’t want my designs to look like anyone else’s. I want you to see you know that Chakierrah made it because I have my own style.
What are some of the things that you’ve learned that you didn’t know before that you’re going to take away from the program as you continue to design?
When you’re designing for a consumer, your designs have to be tailored to them. I didn’t think of the consumer at all at first since I am the only person who wears everything I make. I want to start my own brand.
Why was it important for you to participate in the No 1 Way Design Program?
I went to the FAAS Studio Instagram page and saw the designs Ms. Angela and her students were making. And I was like, Oh my goodness, like, this is like the stuff that I want to be making. I wanted to take her class ever since I learned about her work. The opportunity to create at FAAS and the amount of things that I’ve learned, has changed my way of thinking when it comes to design.
Lenora Gray, Clark Atlanta University
Why design and this design academy?!
I believe I was born with the gift and with the talent to be creative. So I’ve always known that creating was something that I wanted to do. And I think my life has really been a journey and a testament to where I am and who I am now. Coming to Portland and being exposed to different cultures and a different way of living is a form of design. It’s pushed me it’s opened my eyes and broaden my perspective on life; the way that I design; who I design for; and where I want to go in life.
What are you learning about the fundamentals that you may not have been equipped with before this opportunity?
For me, it has been about learning how to design with a purpose. Also, understanding color, marketing, and finance as a designer. What I’ve learned in the three weeks that we did online and in the two weeks that we’ve been here, I’ve not learned in school. And, this is no dig to my institution, but, we just didn’t get it. You can truly see that there’s a difference in working in the industry and teaching how to work in the industry.
Nachae Davis, Clark Atlanta University
Tell us more about your passion for fashion!
I went to Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York. I’ve always been into the arts, but I’ve always had a love for fashion. Ironically, my mother worked at the Fashion Institute of Technology–so I got to take their Saturday live classes while I was in high school. And that really gave me the basic skills I needed to know how to sew how to fashion illustrate.
You’ve traveled the world pursuing design and when this opportunity came about with Footaction and PENSOLE, you were willing to leave your full-time job to take a leap of faith. How were you able to decide on which direction to go in?
Angela has been an amazing mentor. When this opportunity came about, there was a lot of fear that came along with it. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to keep my job and also pursue this opportunity. I consulted with Angela because I felt like this opportunity can really catapult my career. She advised me to talk to my manager. I had a conversation with my director, and she is truly supportive. We figured out a plan for me to b in Portland and still be able to work but also be fully immersed in this opportunity.
Sharonda Richardson, Clark Atlanta University
You’ve traveled across the world from Scotland while studying abroad for this opportunity. What has your experience been like thus far?
I’m a bridal information designer and I want to be able to implement the functional attributes that we have learned here. Attributes like how to make your attire functional and versatile in bridal products are in formal wear products so that they’re not just pretty, but they also have a reason to be. I’ve also learned a lot about myself. I’m very sensitive about my design process. I’m not opposed to critiques but it’s often hard for me to receive them. So, I’ve learned a lot about how the industry works and how you’re going to have to get over yourself.
What would winning this competition mean for you?
There’s really no way to explain the opportunities that come out of something like that. And I just want to be, I just want to prove like my family, right? I started out going to school for biology, something more practical. In taking a leap of faith by going into design. I just want to show them that I made the right choice.
You can always find top talent at HBCUs
There’s no fashion show like the ones that happen every day on the quads of historically black colleges and universities. The styles are unique to the culture of the campus, and they typically will inspire you to step up your game and try something new.
Interesting enough, only 8 out of the 101 HBCUs have fashion design schools. Yet there are many students who have a passion for fashion. To that point, Footaction understands that there is no one way into the industry. Hence, the significance of the academy.
“There’s a ton of talent out there. We want to bring some of those talents to the forefront. They’re the consumer and they continue to push the culture forward. HBCUs are a sharp point in terms of a consumer base or a student base. I think it makes complete sense in terms of what it is we’re trying to do from a shared purpose and vision standpoint; whether it be from Footaction or PENSOLE,” McLeod adds.
He went on to say, “What they’re (PENSOLE x FAAS) is trying to instill in the students is what the real world looks like when it comes to design. And with that comes a number of things that they may not necessarily have ever learned within the current structure of their school. So it’s about preparing them for corporate opportunities; opportunities for them to go on as an entrepreneur; and give them life skills, as well as the design skills to help them succeed later on in their careers whether they choose to do this or not.”