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Business of HYPE: Salehe Bembury

Business of HYPE is a weekly series brought to you by HYPEBEAST Radio and hosted by jeffstaple. It’s a show about creatives, brand-builders, entrepreneurs and the realities behind the dreams they’ve built. This week, Jeff sits down with Salehe Bembury, Senior Director of Sneakers & Men’s Footwear at Versace.

You might recognize one of Salehe’s famous designs before realizing it was created by the designer himself. From designing, or co-designing, Cole Haan’s LunarGrand shoes and YEEZY’s military boots, to Versace’s most recognizable sneaker, Bembury boasts an impressive resume. The New York native grew up surrounded by the arts and had a passion for sneakers, providing him a “sense of discovery” into other areas of culture, such as sports, music and television. 

After graduating from Syracuse University as an industrial design major, a program which he says helped him become a “design Renaissance man,” Bembury jumped around various footwear design jobs, such as Payless, Fortune Footwear, Damon Dash’s DD172 and eventually Cole Haan. It was at Cole Haan where he joined former Nike designer Jeff Henderson to work on the brand’s innovation team to create the LunarGrand.

After, Salehe worked at GREATS and eventually found an opportunity at YEEZY. He admits that working on YEEZY Season 3 and 4 was not only his “most demanding” job at that point, but would ultimately be a stepping stone to his current endeavors. After his time there, he began freelancing and found himself reaching out to Versace on a whim.

“I see this Versace design director on “People You May Know” on LinkedIn, and I propose an opportunity. The sneaker industry is a multi-billion dollar business, and traditionally, that consumer has always gone for your Nike, Reebok, adidas within the last five years. Now this consumer is aware that fashion houses can make sneakers, so it’s an opportunity for you guys. You have so much heritage, strong DNA and history, that you need to participate. I didn’t think that I’d hear back, then three days later I got an email back, and they loved my ideas.”

Bembury resides in Los Angeles and currently works at Versace where he frequently collaborates with Donatella on pushing the brand’s foray into streetwear. He attributes much of his success to the earlier stepping stones in his career that gave him versatility. Reflecting on his career, he tells us the importance of breaking stereotypes and why he’s enjoyed being an “informative tool” to the fashion industry.

This episode features references to the following:

2:10 – Position at Versace
4:35 – Growing up in Tribeca, NY
5:03 – Early childhood
11:32 – Syracuse University for Industrial Design
14:48 – Payless
17:19 – Kanye West
18:55 – Fortune Footwear
20:00 – Damon Dash‘s DD172
27:46 – Cole Haan
27:59 – Jeff Henderson
29:21 – Innovation team at Cole Haan
29:44 – Cole Haan’s LunarGrand shoe
31:06 – Mark McNairy
41:42 – GREATS
46:08 – Rem KoolHaus
47:41 – Working at Yeezy
49:29 – Kanye West
55:19 – Working with Kanye West
59:55 – Getting a job at Versace
65:46 – Creating Versace’s Chain Reaction sneaker
68:51 – 2 Chainz
77:50 – Migos
78:40 – Allen Iverson
82:45 – Breaking stereotypes
86:11 – Samuel Ross
89:17 – Future plans
90:37 – GOAT
93:00 – Advice