RICHMOND, Va. — Shawn Williams was a former social worker, who always had a passion for design, and when he was selected to be an inaugural DiverCity x DESIGN cohort member, his life changed forever.
The VF's integrated partnership with PENSOLE Academy™ is a unique program that was created to provide BIPOC students with valuable access to the professional design experience and empower them as they create and build a career in the industry.
Williams, a Richmond native, said that his journey was non-traditional and as a former social worker, he found it essential to give back to his community at all times.
"As a former social worker, really being heavy on community and doing work in the community, I take a more personal, storytelling aspect to design," Williams said. "So, I typically like to shine a light on challenge populations and when I design something whether it individuals coming from poverty or individuals with a disability. I really want to spotlight that."
With the help of this partnership through VF, creatives were given the platform to create meaningful designs that resonate with all demographics. For Williams, being a designer is much more than creating unique consumer products. It's an opportunity to break barriers in the industry as a whole.
"Being from Virginia, you just don't see this at all, like I couldn't even fathom doing this as a kid, designing shoes, I mean we wear shoes every day but to actually design it I didn't even know this was a career path for people like me," Williams explained. "A lot of times, people who are from the city live in a bubble but it is important for people to see this and see it is possible."
Now Williams has used his experience as a VF Diversity and Design Apprentice to inspire those across Richmond and Virginia. During his time with VF and after joining the Vans team, he says the support was overwhelming.
"It was overwhelming, whether it was a text message, email, phone call, DM on Instagram or message on LinkedIn the love and support have been overwhelming from friends, and family," Williams said. "I even got a chance to speak at James Madison University and now I got my friends kids drawing shoes now, I've really created a variety of opportunities."
Now as Williams steps into his role as Associate Footwear Designer, Lifestyle at Vans, he hopes to inspire the next generation of creatives to reach for the stars.
Williams always takes the time to remember his hometown the city of Richmond as his motivating factor to keep designing and inspiring the next generation of minority creatives.
For him, as a Black male designer, this is only the beginning of shifting the industry's representation numbers. Williams and his fellow apprentice members are working hard to create a diverse design environment that will invite everyone to express all sides of creativity.
To keep up with Williams and his design journey connect with him on LinkedIn.
Visit theVF's DiverCity x Design Apprenticeship website for more information on the next class of creatives.