Sneaker Brand Atoms just solved one of shoe shopping's biggest gripes
- According to research, more than 60-percent of the population has issues with shoe size
- Sneaker Brand Atoms wants to solve that by letting wearers pick quarter-sizes
- The sneaker company was launched by two entrepreneurial Pakistanis who live in New York
You are, in all likelihood, wearing the wrong shoe size.
You might not think you are. But according to industry research, about 60 percent of the population has the same problem. How’s that happen? Well, basically, sizing is an antiquated system based on the size of a barleycorn. If that sounds kind of crazy to you, you’re not wrong. And if you're someone with two different sized feet—most estimates say that's more than half the population—you already know the struggle is very real.
While some brands are working on apps to help you find your correct size using 3D scans and other tech (and there’s always bespoke) one new company just brought a simple, elegant, and affordable solution to the table for wrong-sizers and two-sizers alike. Atoms, a New York startup from husband-and-wife team Waqas Ali and Sidra Qasim, just launched this week.
Its first offering, the Model 000, is a streamlined sneaker that won’t come as a visual shock to anyone familiar with modern, minimal shoes. But it sets itself apart with smart materials and a customizable sizing system that lets you pick quarter sizes (instead of only half or whole) and different sizes for your left and right foot.
The sizing innovation was influenced by Ali and Qasim’s first footwear venture, Markhor, which launched in their native Pakistan in 2012. They started out doing extremely personalized dress shoes for specific clients before expanding in 2014. “During that [initial] time, we got into sizing and found that I don’t have the same sized feet. I have a half-size difference,” explains Ali. When they moved to the U.S. in 2015 and noticed that everyone was wearing sneakers instead of dress shoes, they set about making what Ali calls “that one shoe” that people want to wear every day. Part of nailing it was making sure the fit was dead on.
“We wanted to offer the perfect fit,” Ali explains, “but the perfect fit is not, like, ‘Hey! We have the perfect fit!’ What does ‘perfect fit’ even mean?” The couple started breaking it down, and decided for the company that would become Atoms, it meant your longest toe is only a third of an inch from the interior edge of the shoe—hence quarter sizes—and that you might need a different size to achieve that on each foot.
Now, when you order from Atoms, you select your normal shoe size and then answer whether you always wear that, or tend to size up or down. The system then selects three quarter-size options for you (you can tweak if you’d like). The shoes—six in total, three for each foot—are then shipped to you. You pick what works best for left and right, then return the rest. It’s a complicated system on the backend, requiring a rework of how the Atoms warehouse functions, but on the front end, it’s simple. Buy, try, and keep only what works.
Of course, that’s not all there is to the Model 000. Ali and Qasim also reevaluated how we wear our shoes in real life, writing down their ideas as they came. “It all started from that document,” says Qasim. One discovery? “We like the look of the shoelace, but we don’t want to tie them whenever we put our shoes on or take them off. So we thought, ‘What’s the best way to work on this mechanism?’” They wound up buying a simple bit of elastic and lacing up Ali’s shoes with it. Suddenly, “Waqas was wearing those shoes every day.”
That simple bit of convenience—slipping the shoes on and off without untying or tying—led to the decision to use stretch laces in the Model 000. Copper lining in the footbed also presents a functional fix: It kills bacteria that leads to odor, meaning you can wear the sneakers more often. The tongue is specially designed not to slip. And while details like a comfy midsole and a lightweight knitted upper are far from unique in the current sneaker landscape, they’re still a welcome addition.
Atoms provided sneakers for me to try out, so I could get a feel for the process and the product. And speaking as someone who has two different shoe sizes—11 and 11.25, it seems—it’s pretty great being able to have that kind of specificity in fit instead of compromising by sizing up for both feet. It doesn’t feel revolutionary, just…right. It makes you wish you could tune things in this easily with your other sneakers.
And while the functional elements like those stretch laces are, again, a seemingly small thing, I have to admit that I recently found myself trying to step out of a different pair of lace-up sneakers to no avail. It wasn’t a big deal. At all. But when it comes to those subconscious cues that make you reach for a sneaker in the morning when you’re groggy and still waiting to get that first cup of coffee into your system, I can completely understand the appeal of Atoms.
The brand is currently focused on just the Model 000, which is initially being offered in three minimal colorways—white, black, and black-and-white. There's also a “members only” all-gray colorway. What about about plans to scale up, with new models or more colors? “We want to grow Atoms,” Ali explains, pushing back against a business-speak word like “scale,” a favorite of startups looking to transform into behemoths overnight. “Not scale in a way that it hurts our product or the experience,” clarifies Qasim. New stuff will come—additional colors for new and existing customers, maybe even a Model 001 at some point. But for now it’s just that one shoe, the everyday go-to they envisioned from the start.
I'm not a one-shoe kind of guy. I need variety and, I’ll admit, I’m occasionally a sucker for nostalgia, hype, and all the other emotional elements that play into a love of style—sneakers, specifically. Atoms’ Model 000 isn’t going to change that, but I feel plenty confident that I’ll enjoy pulling on a perfectly fitted pair of shoes when they’re up in the rotation (and not untying them when I do). And if you’re the kind of person who’s looking to pare down and wants a pair of comfy, low-key shoes to help you do it, your secret-weapon sneakers may have just arrived.