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BucketFeet pencils in $7.5 million for growth

Hipster shoemaker BucketFeet is expanding its reach with the help of $7.5 million in new funding.

The funding was led by Jumpstart Ventures, a venture fund headed by ContextMedia CEO Rishi Shah. Yun San, a BucketFeet distributor in Asia, also participated in the funding. Existing investors include Crate & Barrel founder Gordon Segal; Levy Restaurants founder Larry Levy; Allscripts founder Glen Tullman; Andy Dunn, CEO of clothing retailer Bonobos; and angel investor Jeff Cantalupo.

BucketFeet has taken in $13.3 million since it was founded in 2011 by Raaja Nemani and Aaron Firestein. Like Threadless before it, BucketFeet tapped into a broad network of artists around the globe to design its fashions. And, as a result, it has built a devoted following.

The company—which has a retail location at Block 37 in the Loop and a pop-up store in New York's SoHo—plans to open six more stores, including a second Chicago location in Bucktown or Wicker Park. It's opening a permanent New York location in Manhattan's Nolita neighborhood and will add a second store in Brooklyn.

BucketFeet, which gets half its sales overseas, will open three locations, or studios, in Asia, starting with one in the Philippines.

Michael Arndt A pair of BucketFeet shoes worn by co-founder Raaja Nemani.

The company sells both online and in its own retail locations, as well as at major retailers. It launched last year with Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale's.

BucketFeet also is planning to add socks to its product lineup, Nemani said.

The company has nearly doubled its staff to about 30 in in the past two months, and it just moved into new offices at Morgan Manufacturing in the West Loop, just down the street from Google's new offices at 1000 W. Fulton Market.

Nemani said sales more than tripled in the past two years to 150,000 units, and he expects sales to triple this year.

Shah, who has built ContextMedia into one of Chicago's fastest-growing companies, has been a big fan of BucketFeet since investing three years ago. The 29-year-old entrepreneur led the latest round and will become chairman. He knew BucketFeet was more than just a fad when he introduced the shoes to workers at his company in 2013.

"On any given day, 25 percent of the people in our office have BucketFeet shoes on," he said. "It just takes off. It's a social product."

The challenge, however, is navigating both online and offline markets as it moves into brick and mortar.

"The degree of difficulty is high," Shah said. "It's an operational business. The challenges are personnel and process. It's totally different than a consumer-only Internet company."