Salehe Bembury may not be a name you’re familiar with, but you can bet your favourite designer is. Bembury has spent the better part of two decades immersed in the sneaker world, slowly climbing to the summit of an industry that is as competitive as they get. Rather than resting atop the sneaker mountain, though, Bembury is cementing his place there.
But let us start at the bottom.
Bembury grew up in NYC where, like many New Yorkers, he had a healthy passion for sneakers. Our US GQ brethren once described him as a ‘sneaker forum lurker’. That love of sneakers and fashion extended to design, leading Bembury to study it Syracuse University.
Then began the journey to sneaker world domination. Out of Syracuse, Bembury started off working at Payless, the budget footwear brand (it’s literally in the name). Next up was Cole Haan, where he helped design the successful sneaker-wingtip hybrid, the LunarGrand. This was followed by a stint at GREATS sneakers in Brooklyn.
After six years of slogging it out and cutting his teeth in the industry, Bembury got his big break. In 2015, he reached out to Kanye West’s YEEZY team via email, and after some back and forth, `Ye invited him out to L.A. to join them.
Next thing you know and Bembury is helping design the uber-successful YEEZY Boost 350 v2 and the YEEZY Boost 750. That’s quite the clout cache—and Bembury capitalised on it.
After YEEZY, Bembury set his eyes on Versace. Rumour has it Bembury lined up a job at the Italian fashion house through a DM he sent on LinkedIn (!). Imagine (a) sliding into Donatella’s DMs and (b) getting an actual job out of it.
Bembury went on to spend three and a half years at Versace, where he climbed to the rank of Senior Director of Sneakers & Men’s Footwear. After Bembury wrapped up his time there, Donatella told Hypebeast that he was “the best sneaker designer in the world”. Flex!
For many, being held in such high esteem by a fashion legend would be satisfactory, but for Bembury, there were other mountains to conquer. So, last year, Bembury founded his own creative brand, Spunge, and began building a name for himself that extended beyond the sneaker industry.
It didn’t take long. In 2020, Bembury collaborated with New Balance on a sneaker titled ‘Peace Be The Journey’ and the sneaker instantly made him a standalone figure in the scene. Inspired by Bembury’s love of hiking around L.A., the bright orange New Balance 2002Rs were splashed across seemingly every influencer’s IG around the time of drop, and ended up making a tonne of year-end best sneaker lists.
He followed that up with an unexpected collab with the Chinese sportswear brand Anta, creating a futuristic hiking shoe that was genuinely out of this world. And to top the year off, Bembury was named Footwear News’ FN Designer of the Year for 2020.
Now, we’re halfway through 2021, and Bembury has gone and done it again. A few weeks ago he released the follow-up to his New Balance collab with ‘Water Be The Guide’. This take on the same silhouette is inspired by the bright blues of Havasu Falls in Arizona. It features the same shaggy suede, but this time the aqua that tinged the ‘N’ on the desert-inspired shoe takes over as the primary colour.
The shoes sold out in Australia at hotcake pace, as to be expected from Versace’s favourite sneaker designer and one of the most hyped creatives in the world. If Bembury keeps up this furious clip of stunning designs, he’ll be cemented so tightly as the peak of international footwear design stardom, they’ll need a jackhammer to throw him off.
Main Image: nice kicks