BY JASMINE ELLISON
Kanye West surrounds himself with memorable individuals. The oddballs with an intricate sense of style and purpose. The new-age philosophical millennials that mingle profoundness and confidence. The visionaries that rehash and morph the past, present and future. They are the Robert Geller, Virgil Abloh, and Ian Conners of the world. Salehe Bembury is another member of the group.
Unlike his counterparts, Bembury is discreet. Understanding the method to his madness is only possible by piecing together the tiny fragments available on the internet since he declined an interview. Based on his LinkedIn and past interviews, Bembury appears destined for design.
Bembury was born and raised in TriBeCa, New York. Heavyweight shoe brands dominate in the world but in New York, the city is bustling with startups and dreamers ready to add their take on sneaker design. His home served as inspiration with its artistic surroundings as well as being able to experience numerous parts of New York and “gaining a broad perspective of style, fashion and design in the city.” Before even attending Syracuse University for Industrial Design, Bembury partook in two pre-college programs, an 8 Week Pre-College Industrial Design Program at Carnegie Mellon University and a 6 Week Pre-College Industrial Design Program at Rhode Island School of Design. He would then go on to work for numerous companies, including Payless, Cole Haan, GREATS and now YEEZY.
After only a mere two months after graduation, Bembury was a part of Payless. However, he was thrown into uncharted territory and was instructed to design both men and women’s shoes. It was a new experience that offered wisdom. Bembury notes that “to be a good designer, you have to be versatile.” The sentiment became true again as he entered Cole Haan in 2011 to design loafers and wingtip shoes, another unexplored realm. However, he pushed the boundaries of the traditional brand and created practical and stylish footwear. His most notable mesh of functionality and design with Cole Haan was the Cole Haan x Nike Lunargrand Wingtip that combined stable running shoes with premium dress shoes.
Described as a “crackhead-like drive,” Bembury has shown his determination. As an intern at Damon Dash’s DD172, Bembury wanted to sit at the grownup table, specifically with the official design team. Not one to wait for recognition or a promotion, Bembury purchased an inexpensive TV dinner table at Duane Reade, put it in the design room and worked there as if it was his assigned desk. With no opposition, Bembury was on the design team that day. In another instant, Bembury spent five hours wearing heels to understand the feeling of heels in order to improve the experience. “Without experiencing it firsthand I wouldn’t know what problems warranted solutions,” Bembury noted.
Even in his free time, Bembury obsession with sneaker design in shown with an unquenchable thirst to sketch and draw sneakers with the occasional fishing trip. With a goal of “finding innovative solutions to real world design problems,” Bembury has progressed with every new position. Whether it is revamping YEEZY at its new Adidas home or reimaging dad sandals at GREATS with the Canarsee scandal, Bembury has pushed many limits. “I think a lot of people see tradition as something that can’t change. However, we see it as the foundation for innovation,” Bembury declared during his time at Cole Haan. Integrating complexity and analytics of sneaker designing and subjectivity of style is a skill Bembury has honed.