Meet the former Nike designer helping other women of color in design

The design kept Cheresse Thornhill-Goldson’s interest since high school. It’s also what led her to study industrial design at Michigan’s College for Creative Studies.

While at CCS, Thornhill-Goldson landed an internship at Nike, which gave her full-time employment after graduating in 2007. At Nike, she met two of her mentors, Duane Lawrence and By Wayne Edwards. Thornhill-Goldson credits both men with taking her under their wing and grooming her for success in the industry.

“I’m such an advocate for mentorship because I knew it made all the difference for me to be a black woman in space,” Thornhill-Goldson told AfroTech. “I couldn’t have done it any other way if I hadn’t already had mentors in the industry. I wouldn’t have been in the spaces, and my portfolio wouldn’t have been what it took to get me into the internship and then into a full-time role.

Thornhill-Goldson spent nine years at Nike as a footwear designer for the women’s training divisions of Nike, Jordan Brand and Emerging Markets. However, after a decade at the clothing giant, she wanted to expand her focus and help others the way she was helped.

This led her to return to school at Full Sail University where she earned her master’s degree and began teaching design at the high school and college levels. She now teaches at another sportswear giant, Adidas.

Thornhill-Goldson is now the Design Director of the Adidas School for Experiential Education in Design (SEED) program. The program, developed in partnership with the Pensole Design Academy, is a strategic pipeline to welcome new talents within the brand and the industry.

The inaugural class of the SEED program in 2020 was an all-female class of creators, and today Thornhill-Goldson works with Jessica Smith and Liz Connelly. Today, the three women are committed to providing access, awareness and a pathway for more women to enter and make their mark in the footwear industry.

Students in the program are paid for its entire duration and receive a housing allowance each month so that they can concentrate on their work.

“It’s really about creating equity,” she said. “We try to remove as many obstacles as possible. Thus, our students simply need to be at least 18 years old and able to work in the United States. These are the only requirements. And being a woman of color because that’s what we focus on.

Thornhill-Goldson added that those who apply don’t need the information that art programs typically ask for, including a resume and portfolio. Instead, the program creates opportunities for students and then assesses them on their ability to collaborate, receive feedback, and act on it.

The SEED program is currently accepting applications for its third class and two-year program and has expanded beyond footwear to clothing, accessories and backpacks.

Abdul J. Gaspar