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Atoms: The quarter size sneaker empire built by a Pakistani couple

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Atoms: The quarter size sneaker empire built by a Pakistani couple


Atoms, the private footwear brand based in Brooklyn, New York, offers quarter sized shoes, and even allows its clientele to buy pairs of shoes in two different sizes.

The brand was founded by the serial entrepreneur husband and wife duo, Waqas Ali and Sidra Qasim, who started their first brand in 2015 under the name of ‘Markhor’. Waqas and Sidra, who now live in the United States, hail from Okara, an agro-centric city to the southwest of Lahore.

The story of Markhor began in 2010 when Waqas met a shoemaker in Okara, called Muhammad Hussain at a local panchayat (council meeting). The team worked directly with some of the most skilled craftsmen in the world to make modern design and beautiful products. In 2015, Markhor raised $107,000 through a Kickstarter campaign they did in 2014. In the summer of 2015 they delivered 700 orders to customers across 35 different countries.

Enter Atoms

People are replacing their Nike’s with Atoms, swearing by the comfort and fit. The brand is also giving stiff competition to AllBirds, which are touted as the world’s most comfortable shoes. 

The idea for Atoms was inspired by the challenge that most people still wear misfit shoes, despite the number of brands and styles out there. While talking to the people over at TechCrunch, Waqas and Sidra shared that they discovered “more than 70 percent of people have at least a quarter-size difference in their two feet, and more than 7 percent have a half-size discrepancy”. The founders wanted to design a shoe that people would use everywhere. The idea was a huge success, and the footwear brand developed a huge audience in its earlier stages.

Marketing done right

Not only was the idea of the footwear brand ingenious, their marketing strategy was on point for the millennial gen. 

Atoms kicked off by selling on invite-only basis in its earlier stages on its website, building a 4,000 people waitlist, before publicly launching on June 3, 2019.

The shoes are unisex and available in a limited set of colours. New colours such as the Model 000 in Neon are introduced from time to time, but the premium designs are only available to those who have previously bought a pair of Atoms. Once the limited edition shoes go out of stock – they are only reintroduced once a significant number of people join the wait list, minimising excess waste. 

From Atoms’ designs to their brand persona, one thing stands out – minimalism and transparency.

What you see is what you get, and what you see is simplicity, elegance and a well crafted shoe that promises comfort. Despite the lack of a visible logo on the exterior of the shoe, the designs are becoming instantaneously recognisable all over social media. 

Pricepoint: $$$

Atoms are more than double the cost of what a pair of AllBirds will cost you, ranging from $120 to $179. What exactly do you get for your buck:

The brand is putting consumer experience at the forefront, when you order a pair e.g. 10s, Atoms will send you 9.75, 10.25 and 10.5s along with socks for testing the size accuracy. The shoes feature oval eyelets, which makes it easier to slip the shoe right on and saves you time spent on tying and retying shoelaces for the ultimate fit. The copper threads inside the shoe eat bacteria, preventing funky smells. 

Atoms Culture 

By the looks of it, Waqas and Sidra aren’t only building a brand but they are building an innovative shoe culture with the long game in mind. Customers can get a discount on a new pair if they donate in their old one for analysis and research. 

The brand wants to convert customers in lifelong wearers by developing a patterned sole which will rub off depending on the wear pattern of the customer, enabling Atoms to design a custom sole each customer in the future. The donated pairs will also be used to modify future designs.

Early success

Atoms attracted $560,000 in seed funding from LinkedIn’s ex-head of growth Aatif Awan and Shrug Capital. The company also recently raised $8.1 million Series A funding.

It is being led by Initialized Capital, the investment firm started by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan, with other backers including Kleiner Perkins, Dollar Shave Club CEO Michael Dubin, Acumen founder and CEO Jacqueline Novogratz, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, TED curator Chris Anderson, the rapper Chamillionaire and previous backers Aatif Awan and Shrug Capital.

The future

Atoms will require a dedicated clientele to achieve its long term goals, but with the impact it has made in under a year of launching, the future for Atoms looks bright to say the least. 

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