WASHINGTON — If you’re interested in purchasing an original piece of art, stop searching in galleries and head to D.C.’s newest shoe store instead.
BucketFeet, a Chicago-based brand that sells slip-on and lace-up sneakers designed by independent artists from all over the world, just opened shop on 8th Street Northwest in the Shaw neighborhood.
The story behind BucketFeet began with a chance encounter in Buenos Aires back in 2008. Aaron Firestein had just graduated college and instead of heading to a board room, he boarded a plane with a one-way ticket to Argentina.
At the same time, Raaja Nemani had just quit his job in finance and decided to travel the world for a whole year. The two met while volunteering and instantly became friends.
When it was time for Nemani to pick up his backpack and move on to his next destination, Firestein drew on a pair of canvas shoes for Nemani — something he used to do for friends in college “just sort of as a hobby, a fun way to bring in extra cash and be creative.”
“[Nemani] wore these shoes all around the world for a year, and everywhere he went, people were really interested by these shoes and they were great conversation pieces,” Firestein said.
In 2011, the two friends decided they were on to something with their colorful kicks, so they launched a company that encourages other artists to take their designs from the canvas to canvas shoes.
“There are people that deserve a voice that don’t necessarily have the tools or the know-how to get their art out there,” Firestein said about the decision to open the concept up to a network of global artists.
“There’s a reason there’s that term ‘starving artist.’ It’s difficult to make a living as a creative, and we think that bit by bit … it is the sort of thing that will get these [artists] extra income, and really help to just push them down their creative path, even if it’s in a little way.”
Artists can create an account and submit their original designs on BucketFeet’s website — and so far, more than 40,000 have done just that.
“Really all you need is a computer and an internet connection and you can participate in what we’re doing,” Firestein said.
Once the art is received, an in-house committee narrows down the selection for BucketFeet’s curated collection of footwear. Firestein says so far, 300 to 400 artists have had their work featured and sold on the company’s shoes.
“It’s something where we’re constantly rolling out new stuff, monthly, so there’s a lot of opportunity to get way more artists out there,” said Firestein, who explained the art on the shoes includes everything from screen prints to embroidery and even leather work.
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the selected artists are paid $250 for each piece of art BucketFeet buys, and $1 for each pair sold.
“The more shoes we sell, the more they earn, and if something is selling really well, we’re just going to keep producing it and selling it,” Firestein said.
Designs are sold in women’s, men’s and kids’ sizes, and styles run the gamut from showy to simple. Prices range from $62 to $148 a pair.
“We have things that are really in-your-face crazy bright, colorful, wild designs. That’s on one end of the spectrum, but then we have other shoes that are really understated … and everything in between,” Firestein said
BucketFeet has two other U.S. locations, both of which are in Chicago. Firestein said expanding the company’s footprint into D.C. reinforced BucketFeet’s mission to connect people through art.
“The fact that it’s a city that’s so international, in nature, and we work with artists all over the world, it’s just a perfect fit,” he said.
“People get it. It doesn’t take a lot of explaining why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
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