Public Programs

Future Now: New Directions in Footwear Design

Tuesday, April 30
5:30 – 6:30 PM Program

*please note we will not be hosting a reception following the program

Fashion Institute of Technology
Katie Murphy Amphitheatre
Enter at: 218 W. 28th Street (between 7th and 8th Ave), NYC

This program is free and open to the public with registration.


Join the AFA for our next public program, a roundtable discussion inspired by Future Now: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting-Edge Kicks, a new traveling exhibition co-organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Bata Shoe Museum.

Operating at the intersection between form and function, innovation and imagination, today’s footwear designers are pushing the boundaries of what wearable fashion can and should be. This program’s featured panelists will consider how social justice initiatives and technological advancements have put footwear at the forefront of fashion innovation today.

Featured Speakers:

Elizabeth Semmelhack | Director and Senior Curator, Bata Shoe Museum
Dr. D’Wayne Edwards | Co-Founder/President, Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design
Xunjie Zhang | Founder and CEO, Shift Robotics


Katharine J. Wright, PhD | Curator, American Federation of Arts


For questions and additional information, please contact

About the speakers:

D’Wayne Edwards, with no formal education, started his career as an entry-level footwear designer for LA Gear at the age of 19. Over the course of his career, he has received numerous honors and awards including the Red Dot award, three-time Mercedes Benz Fashion award winner, Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business, Business Insider 100 People Transforming Business, and the President Volunteer of Service Award given by President Obama.

In 2010, Edwards began his journey as an educator by establishing the first design focused HBCU academy, PENSOLE, which has now placed more than 700 alums in professional positions at top footwear and clothing brands. Dr. Edwards has taught and lectured at some of the world’s premiere schools, and in 2019, ArtCenter College of Design awarded him an Honorary Doctorate degree. He has also created an annual conference called the Black Footwear Forum. His work around diversity has led to honors such as the Footwear News Icon award, Footwear News Person of the Year, IDSA Special Achievement Award, Footwear Plus Lifetime Achievement Award and Business of Fashion Global 500 Innovators Award.

As a designer, Dr. Edwards has accumulated over 50 patents and designed over 500 footwear styles for entertainers such as Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, Dre, Snoop Dog and Nas. His designs have been worn in six different Olympics, and worn by athletes in the MLB, NFL and NBA. D’Wayne has also achieved a personal career goal of opening the first Black owned footwear factory in the US called JEMS.

Elizabeth Semmelhack is the Director and Senior Curator of the Bata Shoe Museum. Her work focuses on the intersections of fashion, culture, and economics with a particular interest in the history of footwear. She is widely quoted in the media from the New York Times to Vogue and since starting in 2000, she has curated over 30 exhibitions, written 11 books and catalogues and over 30 chapters and articles. Her most recent exhibitions are Exhibit A: Investigating Crime and Footwear co-curated with Dr. Alison Matthews Davids, Future Now: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting-Edge Kicks (2022), All Dolled Up: Fashioning Cultural Expectations (2021), The Great Divide: Footwear and the Age of Enlightenment (2020) and her most recent publications are Future Now: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting-Edge Kicks (Rizzoli: 2022), The World at Your Feet: The Bata Shoe Museum Collection (Rizzoli: 2020), Collab: Sneakers x Culture (Rizzoli: 2019), Dior by Roger Vivier (Rizzoli: 2019), Shoes: The Meaning of Style (Reaktion: 2017). She is currently working on numerous projects and books.

Katharine J. Wright is a curator and scholar of modern and contemporary art based in New York City. She specializes in pre- and post-war American art, with a focus on design, alternative media, public art, and photography. For more than twenty years, Katharine has conducted research, organized educational programs, and held curatorial roles at major art museums including the Morgan Library and Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has curated exhibitions across the United States, Europe, and Latin America, featuring artists such as Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Marta Chilindron, George Lois, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin and many more. Dr. Wright received her BA from Williams College and her MA and PhD from The Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Her research and writing has been published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thames & Hudson, Yale University Press,, and Ridiculosa.

An accident while riding a scooter led Xunjie Zhang on a multiyear journey that gave birth to Shift Robotics in 2018 and the launch of the world’s first Robotic Shoes, Moonwalkers, in 2023. Named by TIME as one of the Best Inventions of 2023, Moonwalkers are AI-powered personal mobility devices that continuously analyze a user’s gait and enable individuals to safely walk up to the speed of a run — 7 mph. Prior to starting Shift Robotics, Zhang spent nearly 3.5 years with Rolls-Royce where he worked on the engine control team for both the Airbus A350 and Boeing Dreamliner engines, respectively. Zhang received a master’s degree in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Bristol University, UK.




This program is presented in partnership with the Footwear and Accessories Design program at FIT.


AFA Public programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. These programs are also supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. We are also grateful for the support of the American Chai Trust.




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