Charity is a basic constituent of today’s economy. Citizen consumers and cultural capitalists are demanding corporate social responsibility and won’t hesitate to punish companies who don’t deliver. So if the money is where the “warm and fuzzy” is, it makes sense that that’s where new businesses continue to emerge.
BucketFeet is the latest in this new wave of businesses blending social purpose with profit. The Chicago-based shoe company, launched just two months ago, operates under the motto, “Buy a Shoe, Build a Community.”
Founder and Creative Director Aaron “Bucket” Firestein has built the brand rather quickly, first working out of a dirty dorm room at the University of Oregon, and later scaling up with the help of one of his early customers (and current BucketFeet CEO), Raaja Nemani. The two met while volunteering for a youth-focused citizen sector organization in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2008.
BucketFeet donates 5% of every purchase to spread music, sports, and art to at-risk children around the world.
I know, I know, when you think of ‘shoes for good,’ your mind probably jumps straight to TOMS Shoes. Of course it does. But is TOMS really doing more good than harm? The TOMS One for One campaign has noble goals – for every pair of shoes purchased, they give a pair of shoes to a child in need. But the TOMS Buy-One-Give-One (BOGO) model has been described as an absurd example of conscious consumerism. The reason being is that the philanthropic NGO economy is killing entrepreneurship in places like Africa, as well as damaging local business.
BucketFeet does it better. With a model I termed, “Buy One, Give Some,” BucketFeet is proving to be much more than just another copycat company.
“We get [compared to TOMS Shoes] all the time, but its fine,” says Firestein. “We’re really proud of how we’re contributing – by giving back in a way that’s really interesting and can lead to future progress. BucketFeet is just trying to do it in a way that’s a little different. We work with groups that are working with kids in fun, effective, and original ways.”
One of BucketFeet’s official partners is love.fútbol, the second place global prize winner in the Changemakers® Changing Lives Through Football global competition. love.fútbol empowers impoverished communities to build simple, safe and accessible soccer fields for at-risk youth; they transform soccer from a game into a catalyst for youth development, hope, and inspiration.
BucketFeet also supports MAGIC, a world-class stringed instrument program for kids in the Woodlawn community in the South Side of Chicago, and Children Mending Hearts, an arts program for homeless children in the U.S. and in conflict zones around the world.
In addition to partnering with award-winning nonprofits, BucketFeet is building a global artist collective.
“Creating an artist collective has been a dream of mine ever since I started daydreaming about turning BucketFeet into something real, it was always something that I would fantasize about,” says Firestein. “That’s a core value of our community concept – having a group of international artists with similar goals, all making the world a prettier, more thoughtful place. And doing it with a lot of talent and passion.”
Firestein supports artists, who often come from humble beginnings and work without pay, by offering them a flat fee for contributed shoe designs, with the added benefit of royalties on resultant sales. The company has already begun to receive submissions from street artists from countries all over the world looking to participate in the BucketFeet movement.
“We want the website to be a forum for our shoppers and our followers. They check out the guest artist who designed their shoes, and view their portfolios and projects – even though some of their work has nothing to do with BucketFeet, their work deserves to get noticed. We provide a way to showcase them.”
So what’s next for BucketFeet? Firestein and Nemani want to expand internationally, but for now they are keeping their heels grounded. However, there are already plans underway to design new shoe models to complement their classic canvas slip-on shoe.
“We’re small, so we want as much actual help to go to these organizations as we can. But we hope to be a full-blown apparel and shoe line, while promoting a vibrant artist community. We have tons and tons of ideas, but it’s about raising the money and executing.”
This article originally appeared on Changemakers.com and is republished here with permission.
Photo provided by Bucketfeet
by John Converse Townsend, Ashoka's Changemakers