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A Comprehensive History of Salehe Bembury’s Sneaker Collaborations

Salehe Bembury Sneaker Collaborations

has become a household name within the sneakersphere, known for his creative approach to collaborations, bold design language and for taking inspiration from the outside world. Having originally trained as an industrial designer, the creative’s first venture into kicks came in 2009 at the American budget brand Payless ShoeSource – a far cry from the lavishness of his later career at , but (in the designer’s own words) a ‘great place to get [his] feet wet’. Since then, he’s had stints at and Greats and was a high-profile hire at , where he worked on S3 and S4.

Bembury’s next big break came in 2017, where a ballsy cold email and subsequent meeting with Donatella herself led to him being appointed vice president of sneakers and men's footwear at Versace. There, he introduced the brand’s Chain Reaction sneaker, which was debuted by 2 Chainz and welcomed within the luxury sneaker zeitgeist. Noticing his talents were needed within the wider scene, Bembury an offer to work with Nike before agreeing to collaborate with , which he thought would better allow him to ‘preserve his rare role as an auteur in shoe design’. Now able to explore his imagination alongside the likes of NB, and , here’s a rundown of Bembury’s sneaker colabs so far.

NB2002R ‘Peace Be the Journey’ (2020)

Bembury’s start at Versace coincided with his move from New York to LA – a decision that allowed the designer to spend more time in nature. As Bembury began to collaborate with new brands, his love for the great outdoors soon became a recurring theme. For his debut New Balance colab, the , this was clearly conveyed in the campaign video as Jesse Williams is seen decked out in the creps watering an inflatable New Balance sign as if it were a plant. The shoes themselves take on a desert-inspired appearance – a multi toned orange, maroon and yellow mix of hairy suede and wide-holed mesh make up the uppers, while a fleece blue ‘N’ logo adds an extra textural element. The 2000R relaunch in 2020 saw the shoe borrow the sole from the , which meant the pair featured a speckled white midsole packed with N-ERGY tech, as well as orange and maroon outsoles underfoot.

ANTA SB01 and SB02 (2020)

Shortly after teasing his initial NB link-up, it was revealed that Bembury would also be collaborating with Chinese sportswear company . This colab saw Bembury reveal two original silhouettes, the , after showcasing them on his own daily hikes.

The SB01 was designed to be a ‘dual footwear experience’, and was basically made up of two parts that allowed the shoe to be worn in its entirety or just as the inner knit bootie. On top of the knit base layer, the shoe was constructed of a mix of rubber and TPE and featured water-repellent zippers, making them a suitable outdoor trail option. Think gorpcore before gorpcore really took off.

The accompanying SB02 was a low-top version of the sneaker. Looking back on it, Bembury’s design language is very evident, and you can see how his later projects evolved from it. Once again, the shoe took on a trail-ready aesthetic and featured an elastic knit, neoprene, and TPE upper, with a cut-out pattern on top for better breathability.

New Balance Test Run Project (2021)

Bembury’s next venture with New Balance got a little more experimental – he introduced the . If the great outdoors inspired his previous work with the brand, then this one was even more wild: it featured a mix of leopard and cheetah print up top, with vibrant hues of blue and green around the heel. Adding to the clashing motifs, Bembury topped the Test Run’s typical zig-zag straps with NB branding. Underfoot, the outdoorsy-inspired runner came equipped with foam midsoles for added comfort and Vibram midsoles for enhanced durability.

Named ‘Finders Keepers’, the pair never made it to general sale. However, Bembury and NB did drop 50 pairs of the sneaker, and the ‘Finders Keepers’ namesake made sense when the duo revealed that pairs were hidden around Los Angeles as part of a scavenger hunt, with Bembury dropping clues to their locations via his Instagram account. Ten extra pairs were produced for NB staff members, including one pair for NBA star .

NB2002R ‘Water Be the Guide’ (2021)

That same year, Bembury returned for a victory lap on the 2002R, dropping the vibrant blue . Once again drawing on elements of the natural world for his inspiration, Bembury translated the Havasu Falls in Arizona into sneaker form. A widely-known natural wonder, the falls can only be accessed by a five-hour hike, but if you’re not down for that, these shoes might just be the next best thing.

Boasting beautiful, bright teal tones, the Salehe Bembury x NB2002R ‘Water Be the Guide’ follows suit from their predecessor, once again coming in a mix of hairy suede and heavy engineered mesh. Aside from the teal uppers, the pair also features burnt orange panels under the mesh (designed to mimic the rocky landscape that surrounds the waterfall), brown leather accents at the ankles and tongue tabs, as well as pops of bright green by the ‘N’ logos, midsoles and heels. As before, pairs are finished with furry shearling ‘N’s, this time in a forest green shade.

NB547 ‘Yurt’ (2021, 2022)

Bembury took the outdoor theme to new levels with the creation of his , as the idea actually came to him after he got lost on a hike. To avoid it ever happening to him again, Bembury presented a prototype that had a whistle taped to it, and after 18 months of development, the ‘Yurt’ was born.

The addition of the whistle was an eccentric touch, but as expected, Bembury’s quirks didn’t stop there. The designer put an all-new spin on the shoe’s sole unit, fitting it out with a double-stacked midsole and Rollbar tech, as well as coloured panels that give it a pod-like appearance. Up top, the shoe retained some of Bembury’s signature features: shaggy suede clashed with smooth leather and heavy mesh, and each iteration came in outdoorsy colourways. The Salehe Bembury x New Balance 574 dropped over the course of two collections, one in 2021 and another in 2022.

Crocs Pollex Clog (2021)

Bembury ended up leaving his position at Versace in 2021. To take advantage of his newfound freedom as an independent designer, he was able to widen his collaborative pool. Crocs had been working with collaborators to infiltrate the sneaker scene for a while, but Bembury’s initial went a long way towards breaking down that barrier. Considered by many as 2021’s biggest breakout shoe, pairs were even reported to be selling for a 400 per cent mark-up on the resale market.

For this collaboration, Bembury reimagined Crocs’ classic clog, applying his fingerprint motif to the pair’s one-piece foam uppers in a moulded fashion. Given the breathable practicalities of the original silhouette, he also worked in the shoe’s perforations around the toes, before reinforcing the area with a rubber panel. Designed to be worn around the house or on the trail, the pairs featured an elasticated strap around the heel, allowing the wear to flip into sports mode. The collection has dropped in a slew of nature-inspired colourways over the years and was even reworked into a summery , and the more typical Crocs-like Saru clog. The success of the collaboration also saw Bembury appointed as of the Crocs Pollex Pod line in 2023, and in 2024 Bembury also linked up with on a of the Pollex clog.

Salehe Bembury x Brandblack (2022)

In 2022, Bembury linked up with , a performance-focused footwear brand that hails from LA. For this collaboration Bembury imagined two colourways of another signature silhouette in olive and navy.

The shoes once again took on an uber-practical outdoorsy appearance. Bembury selected nylon for the sneaker’s base, before fusing TPU overlays to it for added durability. Underfoot, pairs came equipped with Wraptech soles, which are designed to minimise material waste. Working in a similar way to vulcanisation (but by using a thinner rubber layer and taking the finish higher) the resulting irregular surface of the sole embraces the concept of wabi-sabi and injects some Salehe-style personality into the shoe’s finish.

Spunge x Vans Authentic (2022)

Bembury continued to experiment with his Spunge brand, branching its influence out to top-tier collection, the , to produce three colourways of the . Originally teased back in 2021, these pairs saw Salehe’s fingerprint motif grace the upper, much like that seen on his Crocs collection, only this time it was printed instead of moulded.

The encompassed three colourways of the staple skate sneaker – pink, tan and blue – each embracing Bembury’s bright and bold aesthetic. Each of them then came with matching laces and a white midsole unit. Bringing things back to the natural world, Bembury added cork insoles to each pair. Staying true to Vans’ authentic skate heritage, Bembury also enlisted skate star Olan Prenatt to star in the campaign.

NB990v2 ‘Sand Be the Time’ (2022)

Rejoining New Balance for yet another run, Bembury previewed the at Paris Fashion Week before dropping the shoe in December 2022. Unsurprisingly, Bembury continued to speak his design language for this release, kitting the second iteration of NB’s out with hairy suede uppers and wide mesh panels. As the name suggests, the pair was inspired by a desert landscape, and the resulting sneaker arrived in dusty pink and burnt orange hues. Purple accents, reminiscent of a setting sun, hit the toe box, branding and ‘N’ logos, and Bembury’s fingerprint motif replaced the 990’s usual heel badge.

The Salehe Bembury x New Balance 990v2 launched via Bembury’s own platform, Spunge, before a wider release followed a few weeks later. As expected, both launches saw the shoe sell out. Once again, Bembury invited his friends to take part in the rollout – the campaign video featured Thundercat sliding down a dune at sunset.

Spunge x Clarks Lugger (2023)

Bembury is nothing if not versatile, but to prove the point, his next link-up came courtesy of . But while you’d be forgiven for expecting a , Bembery opted to work on a lesser-known silhouette, the Lugger. Drawing inspiration from the Wallabee, the Lugger is characterised by its asymmetrical lacing system, mid-top rise and crepe sole. Bembury opted to drop a low-top version of the silhouette and cupped the crepe to call back to his previous stacked sole units. He also reimagined the shoe with a layered upper and added a moccasin-style seam that wrapped around the forefoot.

The Spunge x Clarks collection dropped in three colourways. Again, each pair was inspired by the vibrancy and contrast of the natural world. The pack included a bold blue and orange version, a more muted mossy green and pink, as well as a subtler stone and navy pair. Needless to say, heavily textured hair suede was the choice material.

Salehe Bembury x Moncler Genius Trailgrip (2023)

Though Bembury was used to LA, the designer has also ventured out into colder territories with some of his other work. With a Canada Goose colab already on his repertoire, Bembury was soon snapped up by Moncler as part of their Genius project. This time, footwear formed part of the package, and Bembury offered up his take on the brand’s sneaker.

In signature Salehe form, the collaborative Trailgrip saw the fingerprint motif evolve into trippy swirls across the uppers, arranged in a way reminiscent of topography patterns. The colour palettes came as no surprise: earth tones and colourful accents worked in harmony, drawing attention to the aforementioned swirl arrangements. Tying together Salehe’s collaboration lineage, the pairs also featured chenille detailing at the ankles and tongue tabs, much like those seen on the ‘N’ logos of his New Balance. Taking the technology to the next level, Bembury made sure to kit out the techy trail sneaker appropriately, giving it the treatment up top and rounding things out with one of his beloved Vibram outsoles underneath.

NB1906R ‘Heat Be Hot’ (2024)

Stepping away from the safety of suede New Balance, Bembury opted for a different look for his seventh collection with the brand. The capsule saw the take centre stage, and Bembury dropped the meshy retro runner in two fire colourways. Speaking to Sneaker Freaker for Issue 49 of the magazine, Bembury said that he was ‘drawn to the model’s execution and heritage’ and that he felt the 1906R would create diversity and deliver something new to his audience.

Debuted on foot at Paris Fashion Week, the first pair dubbed ‘Magma’ arrived in a solid red, blue and purple make-up, with the former dominating the mesh and the latter two colours providing the accents. The second pair, ‘Lava’, took on a gradient appearance, transforming from yellow to red in a toe-heel direction. Bembury told us that these pairs were inspired by a trip he’d taken to a volcano, where he was inspired by how the temperature changed the structure and colour of the lava.

Crocs Pollex Juniper Sneaker (2024)

Towards the end of 2023, Bembury got the sneaker scene talking once more when he teased a first look at a new Crocs Pollex silhouette. Having settled into his Creative Director role, the designer dreamt up something a little different to the brand’s existing offering, which became clear when the was revealed. Marking Crocs’ first crossover into making sneakers, the shoe echoed Bembury’s collaborations throughout its resulting colourways (Bembury has since revealed two more – a navy and a realtree camo version to accompany the original peach-toned pair) and stays consistent with his previous work thanks to the moulded, footprint-style sole unit that stretches towards the shoe’s uppers. Other features include perforated toe boxes to keep things breezy when you’re traipsing the trails and a snug inner bootie for a secure fit. Pairs are set to drop in May via Spunge, so stay tuned for the Sneaker Freaker verdict as it comes in.

Want to know more about Salehe Bembury's journey? Check out our interview in .

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