In a bid for more unique designs, Bucketfeet moves to on-demand shoe manufacturing

Direct-to-consumer shoe brand Bucketfeet wants to allow any artist to create an interesting shoe design. And it’s take one more step in that direction, by moving its production fully on-demand and opening up its site to support hundreds of new designs submitted by its artist community.

After more than five years of building a brand around unique collections and designs on its sneakers, the company is taking its business fully on-demand and printing sneakers as they’re ordered. Not only does that eliminate the high cost of storage and holding inventory, but also enables the company to make a huge number of new designs available to consumers.

This is a natural progression  for Bucketfeet’s business, which started as a traditional brand selling to retailers but over time has moved to a direct-to-consumer business model. While selling wholesale to massive retail locations might have given the company some predictability in terms of how much of whatever style of show it might produce, it also put constraints on Bucketfeet’s ability to be innovative, according to co-founder Raaja Nemani.

“With wholesale, you’re making three collections a year and up to 5,000 pairs per style,” Nemani said. But with its new model, Bucketfeet will be able to offer up hundreds of different styles, while only making its shoes once a customer buys one.

That increases the cost per shoe manufactured, since Bucketfeet isn’t getting the benefit of volume production costs. But Nemani explained that the company can make up some of those costs in transportation, import taxes and storage since each shoe is shipped direct to consumer, rather than moving en masse through customs and various warehouses.

As a result Bucketfeet is able to keep its sneakers priced at $85 each, while still offering up more designs from its artists and passing on a large share of royalties to those whose designs become most popular.

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Over the years Bucketfeet has amassed a community of some 40,000 artists who have submitted design proposals, but it has only produced shoes from about 400 of those. With its new on-demand model, the company will be launching with 100 new designs on day one, and Nemani says it could add as many as 25 to 100 artists each day.

Because there will be so many more designs to choose from, the company is looking to artists to help promote their own designs and it’s incentivizing them to do so. Bucketfeet is raising the artist commission for each sale from $1 to $10, which means they could make a lot more money if their designs are successful.

“We have a reach of almost a million people, but our artists have a reach of 200 million people in aggregate,” Nemani said.

In the end, he foresees a day where anyone will be able to submit a design and have it produced by Bucketfeet. But even if it never sells, there’s little cost associated with having an unpopular design on the site, since the company doesn’t actually manufacture a shoe until someone buys it.