VF Corp. and Pensole Design Academy have partnered on an apprenticeship program with empowering Black, Indigenous and people of color in mind.
Three VF brands — Timberland, Vans and The North Face — will take part in the effort, which is called DiverCity x Design. The program, according to VF, was created both as an investment in the future of the footwear industry and to ensure diversity in thought and experience. This effort features a curriculum that will give the students access to professional design experience and help them “learn, create and build a career in the footwear industry.”
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There are three phases to DiverCity x Design. First, 27 students will take a three-week online pre-program developed to challenge their personal and professional skills. This will take place from April 19 to May 17. Then, the brands will select 18 of those students for the eight-week Pensole Masterclass, which will take place ending on July 10. With this phase, the students will be divided into teams to work on a capstone project geared at developing their footwear and retail industry knowledge.
For the final phase, the top five performing students will move on to a one-year paid rotational development program experience at the headquarters’ of Timberland (Stratham, NH), Vans (Costa Mesa, Calif.) and The North Face (Denver).
After the year program is up, the three VF brands and the students will discuss further career growth opportunities.
“My childhood and career informed why we started Pensole. This program with VF is targeted toward my 18-year old self,” Pensole founder D’Wayne Edwards told FN. “I am from Inglewood, Calif., and at that time I never left the state, so my awareness of what was possible was limited. I didn’t know what design school I could attend, which was only 30 minutes away but I did not even know it was there. This is why I never attended college, in addition to not having the money to so do.”
He continued, “Everything we do at Pensole is about creating awareness to let our youth know that they can have a future in our industry that does not involve picking up a ball, a microphone or some type of influencer. This program with VF removes those barriers of geography and finances. This program is 100% free and the top students will be paid employees of VF in three different places they have never visited. This is how you change the industry with long-term sustainability.”
Open enrollment starts today and will last until March 30. Applicants must be BIPOC, 18 years old, actively enrolled in school and have an interest in a career in footwear.
Aside from DiverCity x Design, Timberland revealed it will launch the “Creative Discovery Tools” youth program in partnership with Constnt: Dvlpmnt and Pensole in the spring. According to the brand, the effort will introduce middle-schoolers to careers in the footwear industry via a four-week online footwear and color design program. Furthermore, Timberland hopes to scale the program over the next five years to include middle school, high school and beyond to help get potential designers ready for the industry.
Although Edwards has fought for a more diverse and inclusive industry for years, he believes these initiative, as well as the efforts of others, feels like the business landscape is approaching a turning point.
“Companies like VF are the leaders in setting the example for our industry of what needs to be done,” Edwards said. “Programs like what we are doing together is an example of how short- and long-term change will happen — but our industry has a long way to go.”