Mindset matters with CEO & design collaborator Vince Lebon

Globally-successful alum, and forever curious Vince Lebon graduated from VU 20 years ago.
Monday 3 June 2024

This month he returned to share his insights with students and staff as VU’s 2024 Executive in Residence.  

As the founder and CEO of shoe company Rollie Nation, the multi-award-winning designer has worked with some of the world’s biggest names in footwear and design, including taking part in a residency at Adidas Brooklyn Creator Farm, designing sneakers for stars like Macklemore and Ashley Graham alongside being named No. 4 in Inside Retail’s Top 50 People in e-commerce 2021.  

He thinks in three dimensions, “if you imagine a circle from where I started to where I am today, that means the end. So, I almost see it as a spiral, a circle that is not on the same plain.”  

“It’s not something that I would seek, but something that came to me... and I’m sitting here now thinking ‘how do I get more involved with VU?’”

First steps in design  

Vince found the course at VU first by chance, then determination. In year 12, he’d had interviews with two other design schools, but due to illness missed out on completing his exams, and subsequently, top preferences.  

He found the Advanced Diploma of Arts (Electronic Design and Interactive Media) at the then VUT.  He was 17 and it was a postgrad-entry course, but Vince approached the course chair and asked if he’d mind looking at his portfolio. Seeing his work, the course chair asked him to start that Monday.   

He remembers the study experience as eye-opening, 

It humbled me really quickly. I realised that this school was as good as the others; you get out what you put in.

After graduating, he was brought on as multimedia designer for shoe company Subway, to design e-catalogues.   

The catalogues featured 2D sketches, so Vince took the opportunity to push the brief, creating 3D renders of the shoes in Photoshop. The designs were so impressive Subway sold 3,000 pairs from the images alone.   

That entrepreneurial mindset landed him a new role, where he worked alongside the company owner, building his skills, and business acumen. International experience, including in China, also deepened his understanding of supply chains, management and brand-building.   

In 2012, Vince founded shoe company Rollie Nation. Creatively, he was inspired to design a stylish, lightweight shoe for his wife Kat, who travelled around the world for work.  

In the 12 years since, the Rollie Nation brand – and business – has achieved incredible success, stocked in 11 countries and more than 200 stores in Australia.   

For Vince, decisions are based on his values, central to which is the health and happiness of his family.  

“I don’t want a business because I want a business. I want a business because I want to be happy and healthy: body, physically, spiritually and emotionally.”

“I’d rather spend some time doing something I love, in a business that I enjoy. And so, if I need to do something else, [my values system] will still point in the same direction.”

Along with talent, determination and hard work, Vince’s mindset has been pivotal to his career and creative achievements, founding and growing Rollie Nation “against the odds, as a young, black kid from the Western suburbs.”

In between his busy schedule meeting with students, staff, secondary school students and a podcast with the Vice-Chancellor, we asked him about his week and to share some advice, tips and learnings for current students.  

Finding inspiration  

“It’s cheesy, but I find inspiration in life. I can design a collection based on community. Or I might see a scarf in a certain colour. It’s about connecting emotionally and looking beyond the product itself.

My biggest advice for someone working in a design capacity is to look beyond the field that you are designing.  

I look to cars for inspiration for my shoes. Tech and automotive live in the world for much longer, whereas fashion trends are there for a really short time. I can pick trends because I am not just looking to shoes, I am looking to industries that are all based around innovation.

“I travel a lot, so I get to see different cultures and different work, and that opens your eyes.”

Broadening perspectives   

Do something that is loosely in the same direction. If you think about me developing a brand – I was a multimedia designer at heart.

“Having that skillset allowed me to design a website, to design the product, to design the branding. And then my business acumen allowed me to create cash-flow reports, to forecast financially.”

How to use a helicopter view & on-the-ground view   

It’s about zooming in and out.

If you are doing a subject that you don’t like, you need to ask yourself, “is this helpful to where I’m going?” And if the answer is yes, then do it. Get better at it, understand that it is one brick in your house that you are building.   

“That’s a very important part of the job. There are lots of things that I don’t enjoy but I know that it’s the right thing to get me where I need to be. And understanding that it is only one small part of the process helps take the pressure off."  

Teaching as a path to mastery  

“The only way to teach something properly is to understand it. And the way to understand it is to be forced to communicate it.

“So, you have to simplify it. And if who you're teaching can apply it you’ve been able to articulate that mastery, connect emotionally, and communicate the value of what you’re teaching.”

Vince talking to secondary students at Wyndham Tech School.
Vince talking to secondary school students at Wyndham Tech School, at VU's Werribee Campus.
Vince Lebon talking to the audience at a thought leadership seminar, VU City Campus
Vince at VU City Campus. Photography: Eko Hermawan