Fashionably Famous: Bucketfeet Co-founder Raaja Nemani
By Politiquette’s Marissa Mitrovich: Politiquette is a place to be inspired by the art of fashion. Readers gain an understanding of the politics of why to wear–and the etiquette of when to wear–specific styles. Marissa Mitrovich founded Politiquette with the goal of bringing further substance to the dialogue surrounding style in DC.
D.C. recently got a great new addition to its fashion AND art scene. A Bucketfeet studio has opened right in the heart of Shaw. The mission of Bucketfeet is to “bring people together through art” and they do so by commissioning art from around the globe and selecting designs to print on reasonably priced canvas sneakers.
In 2005, co-founder Raaja Nemani was backpacking in Argentina and met artist, and now co-founder of Bucketfeet, Aaron Firestein. Aaron was helping advance the work of emerging artists and drew an original design on a pair of blank canvas sneakers for Raaja. As Raaja continued his travels, the shoes created conversation and brought great exposure to Aaron’s designs. It was these events that brought the two together to start Bucketfeet.
I had the pleasure of talking with Raaja this week about the brand, the new D.C. store and fashion in Washington, D.C.
Prior to founding Bucketfeet, did you have any background related to fashion and/or art?
RN: I had exactly zero background in fashion or art (except for some art classes in high school and college). On the other hand, my co-Founder Aaron Firestein was working professionally as a photographer since 2008, and began customizing his own shoes and selling them since 2005.
Bucketfeet has worked with artists all over the world, but only has 3 studio/storefront locations, 2 in Chicago and now one in D.C. What inspired you to open a store in Washington, D.C.?
RN: We’re focused on opening retail studios in the U.S. and D.C. has been one of our target markets for some time given it is a city where we’ve noticed a significant amount of interest through our website. It was clear to us that D.C.’s thriving art scene was interested in what Bucketfeet had to offer and the stars aligned just in time for us to find the perfect location in the Shaw neighborhood. The dives and civic-minded D.C. population also perfectly aligns with our brand’s mission of using art to spark conversations and create a brighter world.
I read that you receive up to 1,000 new art submissions a week. How often do you select artwork for new shoes and how many of those submissions are selected annually?
RN: We’re looking at new artwork every single day, and given our direct to consumer business model, our goal is to launch new products and designs every single month. The number of submissions selected annually varies, but about 1% of the artwork we receive is then turned into shoes. This might not sound like a lot, but we’re the only brand in the world that gives anyone and everyone a chance to design a shoe. It also means that we source and curate the best art and creativity from around the world in a way no other brand can, to deliver a beautiful end product.
In a short period of time (five years), Bucketfeet has grown to have a significant presence in the fashion marketplace. What has been the most helpful medium that you have used to spread the word about Bucketfeet shoes?
RN: Social media has played a major role in driving brand awareness as well as our community of artists from around the world.
I publish a D.C. based style blog called Politiquette that focuses on the art, politics and etiquette of fashion, using these criteria would you define the fashion of Bucketfeet? Art – Why shoes? Politics – What is the message of the shoes? Etiquette – Where can you wear these shoes?
RN: Art – why not shoes. There’s a great metaphor in the fact that we wear shoes to take us around the world. And that in fact we’re connected to the planet through our feet and shoes. What better place to display art so it can be seen in more places and spark conversation. Politics – our mission is to create a brighter world. We use art to spark conversations and bring people together. If more of us connected with one another, the world would be a better place. Etiquette – you can wear these shoes anywhere. Every shoe is a collaboration with a different artist and tells a different story, so each pair lets you express your individuality in a unique way.
D.C. maintains a pretty conservative fashion dress code, how would you style Bucketfeet sneakers for the office?
RN: I think the great thing about shoes is that they are an accessory. It’s not the same as wearing a t-shirt, pair of jeans, or even shorts with a loud print. Our shoes allow you to stand-out with a unique piece, while still being able to wear a more conservative outfit like dark jeans, trousers, skirt, etc.
Since we are in a presidential election year, what pair of Bucketfeet shoes do you think are the most Presidential?
RN: I’d say our World Map White shoes. With all of the negativity surrounding this election, these shoes represent the positive message of a shared world. These shoes are also only for women, so only Hillary Clinton could wear them. Wink wink 🙂