When Apple debuted the iPhone in 2007, the telephone had no 3G, and solely 8GBs price of storage. One 12 months later, it doubled its storage and added GPS. One 12 months after that, it swapped in a quicker processor and an improved digital camera. The level is, the iPhone grew incrementally, a couple of upgrades at a time.
An identical mannequin lies on the core of Atoms. The New York-based sneaker model launched in 2018 and shot into the highlight in 2021, after Humans of New York ran a narrative on Sidra Qasim, who cofounded Atoms together with her husband, Waqas Ali. For 4 years, the corporate solely bought one mannequin on the location: a $129 “everyday shoe” that’s unisex, obtainable in quarter sizes, and an ever-changing roster of colours. With each manufacturing batch that adopted, nevertheless, Atoms stored listening to its prospects and enhancing that one mannequin with small tweaks just like the size of the laces or the form of the heel notch.
Now, Atoms is launching a second mannequin, with extra built-in assist and a totally reinvented sole. It’s a chance for the founders to proceed enhancing their merchandise on the “atomic level,” as they are saying—and a welcome different to the frequent product drop mannequin that quick trend was constructed on.
Atoms isn’t the primary to begin small and iterate on a single product. When Moleskine launched in 1997, it solely bought one form of pocket book. For over seven years, Away Luggage has been riffing on its signature carry-on—so versatile that People journal dubbed it “the little black dress of luggage.” And it wasn’t till 2021, after nearly 20 years, that Crocs broke with custom and basically altered the silhouette of its notorious clogs. Allbirds additionally launched with only one product—the Wool Runners—although it has since billowed right into a billion-dollar firm that sells sandals, flats, mountain climbing footwear, and even slippers.
In the case of Atoms, nevertheless, the idea is rooted within the founders’ background. It all began with a shoe leather-based firm again in Pakistan, the place Qasim and Ali grew up and met. While on the lookout for enterprise concepts, the pair encountered a gaggle of craftsmen making footwear in a tiny workshop, and satisfied them they might promote them on the web. (Ali constructed the web site; Sidra discovered the craft and centered on manufacturing.) Then in 2015, they had been accepted into Y Combinator, which helped launch behemoths like Airbnb and Dropbox. When they moved to San Francisco, they had been stunned to see the sheer number of milk and yogurt manufacturers on the grocery store. “The kinds of shops I was going to [in Pakistan] only had one kind of yogurt,” says Ali. “We found our life was so simple because of having fewer choices,” says Qasim.
In the years that adopted, the duo struggled to make a enterprise case for leather-based costume footwear within the U.S. After numerous interviews with shoe retailer managers and potential prospects, they seen a niche available in the market for on a regular basis footwear that had been each comfy and classy. In 2019, they launched Atoms with Model 000.
The first pair got here with elastic laces (which means you solely should tie them as soon as) and round cut-outs on the backside of the shoe that helped cut back the load by 20%. In the following manufacturing batch, they decreased the peak of the heel. Then the only was made slip-resistant. Then they refined the lace ideas so that they don’t bend as a lot. Then they decreased the size of the shoelaces. “We are forcing ourselves to never compromise on the quality of the product,” says Ali. “When your whole business depends on one product, you have to make to make sure it’s really, really good.”
There are many advantages to this type of strategy. Small-batch manufacturing helps them guarantee higher high quality management. And fewer fashions imply fewer SKUs, which retains stock prices down and helps streamline their provide chain. But as Ali says: “Customers in the U.S. are trained to look for choices.” That’s the place colours are available.
When Model 000 first launched, it was solely obtainable in three colours: black, white, and black and white. Soon after, Atoms began launching completely different colours each 45 to 60 days. (Customers would preorder, so it was by no means a burden on the stock.) From navy blue and neon yellow to crimson pink, Model 000 has been obtainable in a complete of 19 colours, together with restricted editions like a bitcoin-themed shoe (it bought for $129 in 2021 and is now solely obtainable on eBay for as much as $600.)
The thought, says Ali, is to deal with the “shoe as a canvas,” but additionally to construct belief and hold prospects coming again for brand new colours. “Whenever we do limited-edition colors, our customers pay attention,” he says. To date, Atoms has raised $8.1 million, although it has solely bought round 100,000 pairs of footwear, highlighting a typical downside amongst DTC manufacturers that begin small and discover it laborious to scale. Still, Ali says the model will get most of its enterprise by way of phrase of mouth and 30% of shoppers are repeats.
Now, Atoms is launching its first new mannequin in 4 years. The new shoe, which prices $159, boasts a hidden tongue loop that stops the tongue from scrunching up while you placed on the shoe. While earlier eyelets had been made from recycled brass, the brand new eyelets are made from recycled polyester, which means your complete shoe could be recycled extra simply as a result of it’s all made from the identical materials.
The largest change, nevertheless—and one which required the staff to create a completely new shoe—lies within the sole. Model 000 has a normal rubber outsole, a midsole, and a copper insole. (Individual copper soles do exist, however they’re hardly ever built-in into the shoe.) Meanwhile, Model 001 has detachable insoles with an excellent increased quantity of copper, which takes care of smelly smells, and a extra inflexible outsole that’s formed like a cup. Made of Atoms’ proprietary foam materials, the cup supplies increased assist, together with for individuals whose toes roll inwards.
Arguably, many of those upgrades (sole apart) might have discovered their means into Model 000 as nicely, however the staff is staying true to their ethos of enhancing one product at a time. “We want to have all our focus on Model 001,” says Qasim, suggesting that Model 000 will take a backseat. “Our philosophy is that with every production batch, if we can improve something, we should do that.”