When Raaja Nemani decided to quit his job to go backpacking in South America, he thought he was taking a break from his career, not beginning a new one. But when Nemani was in Argentina, he bought a custom- made pair of shoes from artist Aaron Firestein, and thus began the next phase of both their lives.
“Everywhere I went those shoes inspired incredible conversations with equally incredible people from all walks of life,” Nemani said.
Two years after they met, Nemani reached out to Firestein with an idea “to use art and shoes to bring people together in a unique way,” as he put it.
Firestein accepted, the duo moved to Chicago in 2011, and from their apartment they started BucketFeet, a customized shoe company with a mission to connect people through art — every shoe is designed by an artist from around the world with a story to tell.
Since then, the company took has grown tremendously and now works with not only 10 Chicago artists but artists from all over the globe.
“We’ve grown from one hand-decorated pair of shoes by my co-founder to a brand that has collaborated with over 12,000 artists in more than 100 countries,” Nemani said.
“We’ve moved from being bootstrapped, to being venture-backed,”
That growth has allowed for BucketFeet not only to move its operation from an apartment to its current West Loop office but also open up new studios. BucketFeet has locations in Chicago’s Loop, New York City and is opening a third studio location in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood.
The new location will be located at 1647 N. Damen Ave. in the former Belly Dance Maternity storefront and BucketFeet is showing its confidence in the new location by signing a seven-year lease, its longest one yet.
Bianca Roses, a spokeswoman for the company, said the new studio will have several highlights, including original artwork by many artists. Hand-designed shoes and limited edition wall prints will be available only in studio. The studio will also showcase rotating artist installations each month, where a different artist will take over the space and add their own style to give it a completely different look.
The studio will also host various programs and art activities to bring people different types of art and the option of creating their own. Local artists will have the opportunity to volunteer at BucketFeet and submit their own shoe designs.
Nemani, who said the new location is set to open in late spring or early summer, said he is really excited about the new studio because of the amount of space.
“We’ll be able to have more events and programming opportunities for people to learn more about art in general,” Nemani said. “And [you will have] the opportunity to create your own art.”
Nemani said while the other two studios have been somewhat successful in these bringing these elements to their communities, they do not have enough space like this new one will have and Nemani said he plans for the Bucktown studio to become the company’s “mortar” location from which he hopes to springboard the brand past the borders.
Nemani said that the company hopes to open one more location in the U.S. by 2015, but they are also focusing on opening three studios this year in Asia. If that weren’t enough, they are planning summer pop- ups in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, and potentially London and Amsterdam. Oh, and a year-long pop- up in Hong Kong.
“We want to grow into a major global brand,” Nemani said.
“We believe steps to this include opening up several storefronts in the U.S. as well as international locations.”