“If the shoe fits … “
Atoms, officially out of invite-only mode today, wants to solve a common problem: getting a sneaker that actually fits your foot.
Direct-to-consumer sneaker companies often have a particular focus, like Allbirds’ mission of sustainability, or Greats’ goal to sell luxury sneakers at a lower price point. Atoms’ game is untraditional sizing: selling sneakers in quarter sizes with the ability to choose different sizes for each foot. The company debuted last year in beta with a waitlist of 40,000 people. Now, it’s fully coming out of the shoebox with three colors (black, white and a black-and-white combo), ready to bring its sneaker to the masses.
“We found that our customers wanted a shoe that they can wear every day, and they want their shoes to look simple instead of making too much noise,” said Waqas Ali, co-founder and CEO of Atoms. “The idea is to not just build a shoe company, but build a brand that people want to be part of.”
Atoms sends each customer three pairs of shoes based on their shoe size. The customer tries it on with a sock (so that the shoe remains in somewhat good condition), and then sends back the sizes that don’t fit. Afterwards, this customer becomes an Atoms member. Membership comes with perks; currently, Atoms members have access to an exclusive gray colorway. Ali said in the future, the company will debut new colors and accessories to members only.
The member-only experience also gave Atoms a chance to hear directly from their customers about what to fix or change, such as incorporating more “slip-resistant properties” in the sole. Other features first introduced in the beta (and remaining in the final iterations) include an odor-resistant copper lining, as well as new laces that stay tied, but let the customer slip the shoe on and off. Out of the 40,000-person waitlist, Ali estimates that a couple thousand have actually tried the shoe.
In the invite-only period, Ali said the company learned a lot about how to see the brand operationally. For example, since Atoms ships shoes in three sizes to each customer, co-founder and COO Sidra Qasim realized they needed to bring their logistics and supply chain in-house. The company has since moved into its new headquarters and warehouse in Brooklyn. There are currently no concrete plans on how Atoms will use the space with customers, but the co-founders know they want it to become a place that customers can visit.
While the shoe’s price point is steeper than some others at $179 (for reference, Allbirds cost $95-$115), Ali said it’s similar to the prices of brands like Nike and Adidas. Today’s direct-to-consumer brands aim to solve niche pain points for consumers, unlike the traditional, large CPG brands that look for a one-size-fits-all solution. Atoms is no different; it doesn’t want to compete against Allbirds or other DTC brands, rather gunning for larger incumbents.
The Atoms team said the company’s growth has largely been thanks to word of mouth and that the company will focus its efforts on organic growth (though it has started to test digital advertising). More so, the company wants to use its marketing spend on out-of-home billboards and small events, as opposed to digital advertising.
“Atoms is not just a shoe [brand] for us—it’s a total experience,” Qasim said. “We want to deliver that experience with a great value.”