Steve McGrath, November 2016
Many of us feel the creative fire, like a guy I just read about: he liked to buy white sneakers and doodle on them, then wear his creations around.
Few of us, however, are clever enough to turn our creative whims into thriving global businesses, and fewer still can do that without watering down, over-complicating or otherwise compromising the initial inspiration.
The guy who doodled on sneakers is a wonderful exception, giving transcendent hope to dreamers everywhere. He and a partner created one of those rare global businesses in which the product, now pulling in a reported $15 million a year, hasn’t really changed in the process. It’s essentially sneakers that people have doodled on.
The company is called Bucketfeet. Artists send digital designs to the company, which with the help of consumers selects the coolest creations. In a little over a month, designs are converted into small batches of sneakers sold directly to consumers online and through Bucketfeet stores. Artists get an up-front payment and royalty.
“We met playing soccer with street kids,” Aaron Firestein, the sneaker artist, told Inc. magazine. In 2008, he was volunteering in Argentina helping impoverished kids when he met Raaja Nemani, a financial professional taking a year off to travel. Nemani noticed Firestein’s hand-doodled kicks, bought a pair, wore them from country to country, and got a lot of attention. The new friends kept in touch, planned their company over Skype, and moved to Chicago in 2011 when the company was born.
If this little enterprise is as relevant to you as it is to me, it’s easy to see why. The sensory aspect is powerful. The company has built community by connecting graphic designers, fine artists, street artists, graffiti artists, photographers, students with patrons around the world. They’re united in a communal affirmation of important values: supporting artists (the Bucketfeet artist community numbers around 40,000 globally) and sustaining creativity. Since its launch, the company says it has given over $500,000 back to the artist community.
Who among us hasn’t had a humble passion like doodling on sneakers? How many of those passions could have been global businesses? What is your passion right now? And what would it take to make your passion relevant?