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Bucketfeet doubles down on Fulton Market

Fast-growing Bucketfeet is moving to new West Loop headquarters more than twice the size of its current digs.

Bucketfeet, which makes artist-designed canvas shoes, has signed a four-year lease for 5,000 square feet at 401 N. Morgan St., a newly renovated manufacturing complex called Morgan MFG in the hot Fulton Market district. It plans to move in next month.

Chicago-based Bucketfeet currently is headquartered just a few blocks away in a 2,100 square foot office at 935 W. Randolph St., where it moved last November on a one-year lease knowing it would need a bigger office as the company grows, said president and COO Bobby Stephens. Previously it worked out of start-up incubator space Catapult in River North.

Bucketfeet, founded in 2011, has 20 employees but expects to double that number quickly as it invests in growing and cultivating its global network of artists, which has ballooned to 8,500 artists in 80 countries, Stephens said.

The company was considering River North or the West Loop for a more permanent home but chose to stay in the neighborhood that is increasingly drawing innovative companies including Twitter, Uber and, soon, Google, which is driving much of the demand for office space there as it prepares to move into the former Cold Storage building at 1000 W. Fulton Market in 2016.

“We loved the West Loop and wanted to get ingrained in the culture here a bit more,” said Stephens, who joined Bucketfeet two years ago. “It fits our brand and the artists that we work with and our customer and our employees as a place to go to work every day.”

The 88,000-square-foot Morgan MFG complex, which pre-dates the Chicago Fire, opened this month after a $19 million renovation by developer MAB Capital. It includes a 32,000-square-foot innovation lab, several technology companies, a restaurant, distillery and brewery, and an event space. CBRE brokers Jarrett Annenberg and Brad Serot represented Bucketfeet in the lease.

Bucketfeet’s colorful canvas shoes and its mission to connect people through art have been catching fire. The company has raised $5.8 million from various organizations and individuals that include a who’s who of Chicago, such as restaurateur Larry Levy, Trunk Club CEO Brian Spaly, Livongo Health CEO Glen Tullman and Crate and Barrel Founder Gordon Segal, said Bucketfeet CEO and co-founder Raaja Nemani. Other investors include ContextMedia’s JumpStart Ventures, Listen Ventures and Bridge Investments.

With 150,000 pairs of shoes expected to be sold this year, triple the volume of last year, Bucketfeet increasingly is becoming a mainstream presence.

In addition to being sold at 75 independent boutiques, Bucketfeet debuted in 48 Nordstrom locations nationwide this spring and summer and are currently on Nordstrom.com. They will launch on Bloomingdales.com in time for the holidays and will debut in five Bloomingdale’s stores in the spring, including the stores on Michigan Avenue and in Woodfield Mall, Stephens said. Bucketfeet collaborated to produce limited edition shoes for Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits and Chicago Ideas Week.

Bucketfeet also is looking into opening more “studios,” where it sells and custom-designs shoes and wall prints, hosts arts programming and features a different artist-in-residence each month. Bucketfeet currently has two studios, one in the Block 37 mall in downtown Chicago and the other in the Soho neighborhood in New York City, and hopes to open more in those same markets, Stephens said.

“Customers really are looking for something a little different, something that helps them connect with creative people, not only in their neighborhood but around the globe,” he said.

In addition to growing sales, Bucketfeet is focused on building its global artist network, which has swelled from 1,000 artists at the start of the summer to 8,500 today, with 500 more being added each week, said Nemani, who co-founded Bucketfeet with Aaron Firestein. The pair met while both were volunteering at an after-school program in Argentina.

The network not only drives product creation, but also helps spread the word about Bucketfeet and its featured designers through the artists’ large social media networks.

“It’s not just about selling but about awareness and community building,” Nemani said.