BHM - First Black Footwear Designer

Welcome to the 2nd Edition of the AM:PM London x Black History Month highlights! This week, we are focusing on a historical topic close to our hearts - footwear! So who was the first Black Footwear designer?

Who is Jan E. Matzeliger & Wilson W. Smith III?

Pictured: worker using Jan Matzelinger's shoe lasting machine.

The name Matzeliger might ring a bell for those of you familiar with the long list of infamous Black inventors. Born in 1852, Matzeliger was of Surinamese-Dutch decent and settled in the US as a trained shoemaker. In 1883, he created and patented a shoe lasting machine that increased the production rate and reduced the price of shoes. As a dark-skinned man, Matzeliger struggled and his career options were limited in Philadelphia so he moved to Lynn, Massachusetts where the shoe industry was thriving rapidly. During this time, Matzeliger came up with the lasting machine, a solution to speeding up the shoe manufacturing process - the machine had the capacity to produce up to 700 pairs of shoes a day more than 10 times the amount of a skilled shoemaker! The machine was such a huge success and since Matzeliger's death in 1889, the united Shoe Machinery Company acquired the patent (which unfortunately is not Black-Owned).

It was through this historical legacy that the Jan Ernst Matzeliger Award was created and awarded to Wilson W. Smith III in 2019 for being a pioneer in the footwear industry and the First Black Footwear Designer! Some have argued that there were many before him but record keeping in Black History has not made it clear. Nonetheless, Smith was a special individual most deserving of this award.

Pictured: Wilson W. Smith III in an office full of Nike shoes he designed.

His track record includes: designing iconic products as the Design Director for Nike (2014), designing equipment for athletes with physical disabilities, becoming a Senior Director for Nike Tennis Footwear, designing for Jordan - most notably for the iconic Air Jordan franchise (1990). He was involved primarily with the concepts of Nike’s Cross Training and Basketball products and the list goes on. Smith has been one of the most iconic footwear designers in history and has inspired many be be innovative in design. In a magazine interview with Black Enterprise he left us with one of the most iconic quotes in design history...

“Good design performs for people. Good design solves problems. It’s not just beautiful; it solves problems.” - Wilson W. Smith III

Q: What year was Wilson W. Smith III given the Jan Ernst Matzeliger Award for being the First Black Footwear Designer? A: the correct answer to this question is the 40% off discount code! Expires Monday 19th October 00:00 GMT. New code available Tuesday 20th October.

Thank you for reading - we hope you learned something new about Black History in Fashion today!



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