SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — If you enjoy turning heads in a pair of stylish sneaks festooned with unique artwork, then check out the story of BucketFeet.
Cofounded by Indian American entrepreneur Raaja Nemani in 2011, the company now has a growing presence online that caters to customers around the world as well as coveted shelf space in Nordstrom, Brick & Mortar and Bloomingdale’s in Santa Monica, Calif., and New York City. BucketFeet, which received $7.5 million in Series A funding in February, also gives emerging artists a (literal) mobile canvas, where they can show off their best work on casual footwear.
Nemani, an economics graduate from Northwestern University, spent four years in investment banking before he decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of traveling the world for 18 months.
“I never traveled outside of the country (except to visit family in India) until I was 20 years old,” he told India-West recently in an e-mail interview. “I studied abroad my junior year and it changed everything for me.
“I fell in love with travel — seeing new places and meeting interesting people. I told myself when I was able, I would travel the world someday. That day came when I was 26, and had been lucky enough to save money and pay off my student loans after working in finance. I knew I might never have this opportunity again, so I forewent business school and a promotion to take the leap, so to speak.”
While volunteering in a poor neighborhood near Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2008, Nemani met another young American man, Aaron Firestein, who sold him a pair of sneakers with his original design drawn on them. Nemani wore them on his travels, and was impressed at what a great conversation starter the shoes were.
They got together when Nemani returned to the U.S. and launched BucketFeet in 2011. Today, more than 13,000 artists in 100 countries have sold their designs to the company, and garnered unforeseen exposure at the same time.
Each market has different tastes, he explained to India-West. “Outside the U.S., our biggest markets are Asia and Europe. The great thing about our designs and our artists is that they have global appeal … Europe is maybe a little more toned down in the winter, and Asia is much more colorful year-round.
“We are actually launching in India for the Fall/Winter 2015 season, with a partner based in Mumbai. We’re super excited!”