Salvatore Ferragamo creative director Paul Andrews: ‘I’m totally changing everything’

It was a brave choice on the part of Lemmi given that Andrew had never before designed ready-to-wear, let alone men’s clothing. “For me, design is …

There’s always a moment during men’s fashion month – the merry-go-round of shows and presentations in London, Milan, Florence and Paris – when the accumulated buyers and members of the press collectively pause and feel thankful to be doing the jobs that they do. Some seasons, it might be the unveiling of an extraordinary shoe (remember when the furry Princetown slippers first flopped down the Gucci runway in January 2015? Ye gods!); others, it might be as simple as a fantastic brand-hosted meal (even the most uninspiring round of menswear shows can be lifted by a plate of pasta al telefono from Milanese bistro Bice); and sometimes, if we’re really lucky, it might be an amazing show, an entire collection so zeitgeist-defining and fresh in perspective that it takes the breath away.

For the AW20 season show, that moment came at 11am on Sunday 12 January within the monastic surrounds of Milan’s Rotonda Della Besana. Paul Andrew, the nascent British creative director of Salvatore Ferragamo, mounted his second men’s-focused outing for the brand. Buyers nodded in silent approval – eyebrows raised and mouths turned down – as the bobby pin-thin models walked past, while influencers Instagrammed feverishly about the looks they most loved. Even this magazine’s inscrutable Editor-In-Chief, Dylan Jones, was effusive in his praise. “That was great,” he whispered in my ear as the show’s thumping soundtrack died away. “We should write about him.”

© Photo: Alessandro Lucioni / Gorunway.com

An ultra-modern paean to all things leather, Andrew’s AW20 collection was a hard-edged collection with a soft, supple heart. Slick napa trousers in burnt caramel rubbed hems with tonal, heavy-gauge sweaters, while black leather T-shirts were teamed with trousers cut from the same fabric. Other highlights included a leather one-piece that had a sexed-up sewage worker vibe about it (below) and an oversized nana cardigan made from the finest cashmere. These were clothes imbued with a certain Italian elegance, yes, but also a new sense of modernity never before seen on the Ferragamo runway. What’s more, Andrew managed to dextrously walk the line between Ferragamo’s leather-working tradition and his own, considerably more contemporary vision. No small feat, given that Ferragamo has, over the past four decades or so, established itself as something of a high-luxury all-rounder.

Indeed, type “#Ferragamo” into the search function on Instagram and take a scroll through the 12.4 million posts that pop up. A high-colour mishmash of luxury pool sliders, OOTDs, Nigerian shoe resellers and Chinese influencers wearing the brand’s classic Gancini belts, it’s a convenient way to get an insight into the extraordinarily wide bandwidth with which the 93-year-old Florentine label operates.

Compare said algorithmic gathering with that of, say, #BottegaVeneta, which simmers to the surface countless moody-hued shots of the brand’s now iconic woven Cassette bag and girls in clompy shoes. Or, indeed, take a look at #Gucci, which instantly made my phone screen look like a pixelated G-G monogram rainbow. By contrast, Ferragamo’s product range is as wide as its customer base and that is as much a blessing for Andrew as it is a curse.

‘I’m totally changing everything: when we show, how we show, how much we show. It all has to change’

“Everyone from 18 to 80 is buying Ferragamo,” Andrew tells me when we meet over Zoom in the middle of the UK’s Covid-19-induced lockdown. Andrew is in his flat in Florence and his springy blond hair (which is clearly longer than he would like it to be) is brushed as flat as the vowels in his transatlantic burr. He also seems relaxed – or as relaxed as one can hope to be when being -interrogated over video call with an infernal international delay. “You’ve got super-conservative old ladies buying their Vara Bow shoes and then you’ve got young African-American hip-hop guys buying the Gancini belts,” he says. “And then you’ve got all that’s in between.”

Appointed as creative director of the entire Ferragamo brand – which comprises womenswear, menswear, accessories, shoes and, of course, belts – in early 2019, 41-year-old Andrew’s ascent into fashion’s upper echelons has been as smooth as it’s been speedy. Raised in the Home Counties by his upholsterer-to-royalty father and technology executive mother, Andrew’s childhood was an average, if creatively infused, one. “Growing up in Berkshire in the 1980s I was always begging my parents to take me into London to watch the amazing skyscrapers going up in Canary Wharf,” he tells me. “Afterwards, I’d go home and draw them in super graphic detail.

© Photo: Alessandro Lucioni / Gorunway.com

“Everyone thought I was going to be an architect, but I remember an architect friend of my mum’s came over and she told me that it can be decades before you see anything you’ve designed come to fruition – and sometimes never at all. That depressed me so much that I fell into fashion,” he says, laughing. “I started buying fashion magazines and plastering the images all over my wall, much to the chagrin of my parents, and footwear just seemed like an interesting combination of those two interests. The way you think about and construct footwear is much the same as you’d think about designing a building.”

Naturally, Andrew went on to study fashion and footwear design at the Berkshire College Of Art And Design (now Reading College), where his graduate collection caught the attention of buyer and consultant Yasmin Sewell, who introduced him to the design team at Alexander McQueen. An apprenticeship at the British label ensued (“Though this was in the 1990s, when there was no cash, so at some point my dad said I had to get a job that actually paid money!”), but it was really a subsequent trip to the States that sealed Andrew’s fate. “American Vogue ran a story and invited me to come to meet some designers who’d asked Anna [Wintour] about me,” he says.

‘Men’s collections are about archetypes: soldiers, surfers, bikers…’

What followed were stints working in the shoe and accessories departments of arch-American super-brands Narciso Rodriguez, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. It was in 2012, however, the year that Andrew founded his eponymous footwear label, in New York, that his star really entered the ascendant. “I did women’s shoes first and then I launched men’s a couple of years later,” he says quickly, brushing over his achievements – from what I can gauge of Andrew through the low-res medium of Zoom, he seems unassuming, shy almost. “And then I won the 2014 CFDA [Council Of Fashion Designers Of America] award for my work.”

And what work, minimal yet sculptural. At his own brand, Andrew specialised in grown-up stiletto boots, low-key kitten heel mules and architecturally infused pumps for women, while for the guys the look was as chunky as it was serviceable. I bought a pair of Andrew’s glossy oxblood leather loafers with two-inch platform soles around five years ago (they give just the right amount of edge to a classic black suit) and I still wear them to this day.

It was two years after his CFDA win, in 2016, that Ferragamo came knocking. “I went to Florence and met the family and the executive committee,” he tells me. “And I decided to join as creative director of women’s shoes.” A pause. “It wasn’t until a year ago that I took the hard but necessary decision to pause my own brand, because the stress of managing two companies was really too much.” Galling though Andrew’s sacrifice undoubtedly must have been, it’s easy to see why the Ferragamo family chose the designer to helm the most important pillar of its brand (a brand that currently boasts 654 stores in more than 90 countries). The similarities between Andrew and its late patriarch, founder Salvatore Ferragamo, are difficult to ignore.

Born in 1898 in the southern Italian village of Bonito, Ferragamo – the eleventh of 14 children – cut his teeth as a teenage footwear apprentice in Naples before moving to America to hone his craft. In 1927 Ferragamo returned to Italy and founded his eponymous footwear company in Florence. It was during this period that the young designer started producing the soaringly innovative architectural shoes with which the brand made its name in the middle of the 20th century. Ferragamo’s focus was on comfort as much as design (“Elegance and comfort are not incompatible and whoever maintains the contrary simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” he famously once said) and his shoes became icons of on-foot innovation at the time.

‘You’ll never see me do massive sneakers with “Ferragamo” on the side. It seems lazy’

Scallop-shaped boots made of antelope leather were finished with horned uppers and platform wedges came complete with towering rainbow soles. These were shoes that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the McQueen catwalks of the mid-2000s – or, for that matter, lining the shelves of a Paul Andrew store in 2014. “What Ferragamo did in the first half of the century was really beyond avant-garde,” Andrew tells me. “In the years after he died, the company became more of a powerhouse, more of a conservative heritage brand, and part of what I’m trying to do is find the balance” – he pauses, looking down – “introducing the ‘fashion’ side of things while maintaining classicism.”

In 2017, Andrew was promoted to director of the entire womenswear division at Ferragamo, where his capacious duster coats crafted from syrupy leathers and simple architectural shirts quickly caught the hawkish eyes and sizeable bank accounts of the coiffed European elite. But our story really begins at the moment early last year when Andrew was appointed to his current role and menswear entered his repertoire.

“Paul is the natural creative leader of the Salvatore Ferragamo house as we enter a new phase of evolution and growth,” said Ferragamo’s chief executive officer, Micaela Le Divelec Lemmi, at the time. It was a brave choice on the part of Lemmi given that Andrew had never before designed ready-to-wear, let alone men’s clothing. “For me, design is design,” says Andrew, when I probe. “The reason they made me the creative director of Ferragamo women in the first place was because I had such a clear vision of what that woman should look like and it wasn’t related to the shoes I was designing and that we were actually selling,” he continues. “In the conversations I was having with my menswear design director, Guillaume [Meilland], I realised we had a vision for the new Ferragamo man and how to bring the brand forward. We are a shoes and accessories brand, but I have grand ambitions to change that. Why should we not have more success in ready-to-wear? It’s already starting to happen: we’ve had great responses from our retail partners and it’s already expanding in volume into the stores.”

Andrew mounted his first menswear collection (SS20) for the brand in Florence – during the Pitti Uomo menswear fair – on a sticky June day last year. Shown as part of the womenswear collection it was a crisp-edged capsule of utilitarian cargo pants and flak vests in sotto voce hues. Clean and approachable, with a similar kind of soft luxury to Hermès and Bottega Veneta, the collection, which also featured lambskin trousers (as one would expect from a leather goods brand) aplenty, set a cautiously optimistic tone.

It was his aforementioned AW20 offering, however, that really caught the world’s attention. And it’s about this collection, which has hit stores now, that Andrew is his most effusive: “I think the ambition of the company is to build on the strength of our shoes and accessories and to keep that going, but they could also see that we were already doing very expensive fashion shows so why not turn that into a commercial endeavour rather than just a showcase for the shoes and bags?” Andrew questions. “My idea is to bring in a guy who isn’t just a Wall Street business dude buying a briefcase and a conservative pair of shoes. I also want to bring in a younger fashion client who’s going to be the future of Ferragamo.”

‘The family is engaged and very open about what is happening today in fashion’

There’s an art to visualising the man for whom one is designing clothes, to getting under the skin of who he is and what he wants, and it’s an art that, if mastered, can make a fashion company an awful lot of money very quickly indeed. Alessandro Michele took Gucci from low-billions bit player to global superbrand in a few short years by peddling endless colourful confections for his own magpie-esque man, while Kim Jones at Dior has got the showy-yet-chic profile of his male customer down pat. Who, I wonder, will Andrew’s uomo ideale turn out to be? “When you think about a women’s collection, it tends to be more about a period of time – like it’s going to be more 1960s silhouettes or more 1970s shapes. But with men’s it’s never really about that,” he tells me. “It’s all about archetypes for guys. So for this season I set out my masculine archetypes: the soldier, the surfer, the racing car driver, the sailor, the biker and the businessman. And when you look at the sartorial codes of those characters, that’s kind of what you get with the Fall/Winter 2020 collection. It’s like he’s wearing a surfer’s pant with a businessman’s coat or a biker’s overall with a soldier’s jacket. When you know those are the references, you see them come out in the collection.”

It’s a clever move. Where women are often more likely to buy wholesale into new trends and concepts early on – sophisticated in their ability to pick out what they like and ignore what they don’t – men, traditionally speaking at least, tend to be less willing to deviate from what they know. There’s a reason, after all, that the military aesthetic comes back around in menswear pretty much every season and it’s the same reason you’ll never attend an Autumn/Winter fashion week in Milan and not see at least five versions of a peacoat. Men love things that function and it’s an added bonus if they look good too.

What’s more, it’s a trick that will make the great coats, overalls and double-breasted suits that punctuated Andrew’s second solo menswear show seem all the more desirable to the real men buying those briefcases and conservative shoes in Ferragamo’s stores.

Ferragamo is, by any definition, a fashion megalith. On 31 December 2019 the company registered an annual turnover of £1.23 billion. With much of this income being the result of Ferragamo’s extraordinarily wide customer base, how does Andrew plan to strike the balance, I wonder. “It’s not easy,” he says with a smile, dragging his fingers through his hair. “The collection has to be constructed with all these different consumer groups in mind and you can’t lean too far one way or the other in case you alienate certain people, but I think we’ve done a good job of balancing the classic with the contemporary. There’s space for products that are going to relate to a fashion consumer more like us,” he adds, gesticulating in my direction down the barrel of the lens.

Does that mean Andrew, like every other fashion designer in the world right now, will be producing a chunky dad sneaker for Ferragamo? “I’m definitely not into the idea of sportswear at Ferragamo. I don’t think it’s a reference that works for the house. You’re never going to see me do hoodies and sweatpants and massive sneakers with ‘Ferragamo’ on the side,” he says, suddenly serious (or at least I think he’s being serious; it might just be my screen glitching). “It just seems lazy and inappropriate for a brand with this sort of heritage and history. So, for me, it’s more about twisting the classics. And I’ve been more inspired by workwear – that’s come more into the collection.”

‘My concept now is to do less but better, to produce pieces that stand the test of time’

It’s no secret that being the creative director of a major fashion company is a stressful business. Whispers of mental fragility and feuds circulate the upper echelons of fashion’s creative elite like smoke around the papal chimney. The problems are often only heightened when the brand for which said creative director works is still owned and controlled by the family who founded it. British designer Jonathan Saunders struggled as chief creative officer of Diane Von Furstenberg, where the namesake designer was still very much involved, leaving in 2017 after just a few seasons; Tom Ford and Yves Saint Laurent famously feuded when the former was appointed creative director of the latter’s eponymous brand. How, I ask Andrew, is he finding working for a company where key members of the namesake family are still so present.

His answer, when it comes, is as measured as the positioning of knick-knacks on the midcentury shelf framed behind his head. “The family is very involved,” he says with a wry smile. “There are several members of the family that are still involved that were part of creating the Ferragamo business at the very beginning. Mr Ferruccio Ferragamo, who is the president of the company, Salvatore’s son, he’s the one responsible for building it into a billion-dollar business, with his mother,” says Andrew, slowly. “They’re very engaged and it’s great to have their feedback and insight because they built this company.” He pauses. “But they did bring me on as the creative director and one has to inform them about what is happening today in fashion. They’re very open about that and there’s a really great back-and-forth.”

Zoom has just informed me that Andrew and I are almost at the end of our time together, but given that we’re in the process of entering the worst global recession in anyone’s lifetime and that fashion has taken a particularly hard hit during the pandemic – with production stalled and show systems irreparably disrupted – I’m eager to hear how Andrew thinks his industry and, more specifically, Ferragamo’s role within it will shift once things return to normal, whatever that normal may be.

“I’m not at liberty to speak about it much yet, but I’m totally changing everything: when we show, how we show, how much we show. It all has to change,” Andrew tumbles. “The way we worked before was crippling. It was broken. We worked every hour God sent, but for what?” He shrugs. “My concept now, which is totally backed up by the executive team, is to do less but better. Our place in the landscape is to continue producing pieces of a really high quality and level of craftsmanship and things that will stand the test of time.”

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Vancouver’s first 3D printing shoe store opens this weekend (PHOTOS)

Securing funding led by Khosla Ventures, and joined by Tobias Lutke, the founder of Shopify, didn’t happen overnight for Casca. Parker took courses …

The future is now. More specifically, at 4166 Main Street –the home of Vancouver’s first shoe store fueled by 3D printing.

Casca, a company that began in a Vancouver basement, is now epitomizing the future of footwear and the brand’s first-ever retail space opens today, Saturday, November 30.

Co-founders Braden Parker and Kevin Reid observed their peers choosing between performance running shoes, classic lifestyle shoes, and luxury sneakers, on a daily basis. This, Parker tells Daily Hive, led them to see a gap in the market for footwear that cohesively confronts usability, sustainability, and aesthetics.

Using innovative technology that increases efficiency and reduces waste, the entrepreneurs are setting a new industry standard for the everyday shoe — and they have secured $3.5M in funding to continue growth.

Casca 3D printers/Neil Barbisan

Casca’s design philosophy is centred around the idea of having “less things that do more,” and in essence, one pair of Casca shoes is meant to replace several pairs of typical shoes.

We worked with orthotic experts in a lab for the first few months, analyzing products, learning about metatarsal bones and realizing that your feet are really the foundation for your entire body’s alignment,” says Reid.

The company’s debut model, Avro, features a custom FootB3D printed insole to deliver a precise fit and comfort with Casca’s patented orthotic support system, Lift OS. Customers choose between waterproof leather and knit styles, download the Casca app to scan each foot with three photographs, and from there, a 3D model is generated to design printed insoles.

“On a global scale, the footwear industry is among the most wasteful in the world. In creating the Casca shoe, we’ve strived to create a brand that inspires people to think more critically about shoes, and their own potential impact,” says Reid.

After speaking with the co-founders, it almost seems like Casca was in the stars for them.

Reid admits his obsession with footwear began as a child, after which time he went on to study industrial design and work in the fashion industry for 10 years, designing for brands including Native Shoes, Norse Projects, and Livestock.

“Working with these companies, and having the opportunity to collaborate with brands like Adidas and Fritz Hansen, really opened my eyes to the possibilities and also the limitations of the traditional approach,” he says.

Meanwhile, Parker grew up in an entrepreneurial family and was always trying to start a business on the side. After graduating from UBC, he worked for a real estate investment company because he loved the idea of building something from nothing.

During this time, he developed an online storage and parking company, and after becoming vegan, he created a cricket-based pasta company. “When Kevin came to me with this idea to reimagine the everyday shoe, it wasn’t long after that we were applying for 10 year working visas to China and starting development.”

Casca 3D printers/Neil Barbisan

Securing funding led by Khosla Ventures, and joined by Tobias Lutke, the founder of Shopify, didn’t happen overnight for Casca.

Parker took courses led by Brooke Harley, the founder of Vancouver’s Campfire Capital company. After this, he booked a trip across the US, slept on friends’ couches in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and took on every investor meeting he could.

“As we were fundraising, we knew we wanted to find investors that could add strategic value. When we were in San Francisco, I had a meeting with Kristina Simmons, one of the partners from Khosla Ventures. A few conversations later, after a discussion with Vinod Khosla, we recognized the alignment the two groups had for how technology could change the wearables industry,” he says.

Canadian entrepreneur Lutke and the Shopify team built the e-commerce platform Casca runs on. “No strings attached, we sent [Lutke] a pair of Casca’s with a handwritten note just to say thanks and share our story. Next thing you know, he was a big fan of the shoes and the conversation jumped to investment,” says Parker. “It was sort of serendipitous.”

“Vancouver has established itself as a leader in technical fashion, with brands like Arc’teryx and lululemon leading the charge. We’re thrilled to take it a step further by showcasing this emerging technology in a direct way,” says Reid.

Casca hopes to fully decentralize the supply chain by manufacturing 100% custom-fit shoes in-store by 2029, and its co-founders are excited to build the future of footwear with the Vancouver community. “We’re just getting started.”

The new sleek and minimal retail space was brought to life by young Dublin–based interior designer, Eponine Leahy. Vancouverites can now visit the store to discover how Casca is altering the construction of traditional sneakers.

Casca

Opens: Saturday, November 30

Address: 4166 Main Street, Mount Pleasant

Blockchain for sneakers: New Balance pairs with basketball star for pilot

Shoe manufacturer New Balance has teamed up with LA Clippers star Kawhi Leonard and technology engineering company IOHK for a blockchain …

Shoe manufacturer New Balance has teamed up with LA Clippers star Kawhi Leonard and technology engineering company IOHK for a blockchain pilot featuring its new sneaker, launched today.

Dubbed the OMN1S, the sneaker is New Balance’s first basketball shoe, and the partnership is the first retail deployment of the Cardano blockchain, developed by Wyoming-based IOHK.

Fans can record ownership of their box-fresh OMN1S, available in six colorways, on the blockchain, thus guaranteeing authenticity.

“We’re helping customers feel confident that the footwear they are purchasing fulfill[s] the quality promise that is central to the New Balance brand,” said Ian Fitzpatrick, Head of Global Content and Digital Marketing at New Balance, in a statement.

Welcome to the Fun House

For three days, starting today, the sneakers will be available at an exclusive New Balance x Shoe Palace pop-up shop, Kawhi’s Fun House, on LA’s Melrose Avenue.

Customers will also receive a “Realchain” card with an embedded identity and security chip, with which they can use to claim ownership by registering a code on shoes on the blockchain via an app.

“It’s just the beginning of a long term relationship,” IOHK Chief Executive Charles Hoskinson told Decrypt at the end of last month when the pilot was first annnounced.

He also spoke of the technology’s potential for other high value brands, and for secondary market places such as eBay, where blockchain authentication “makes a tremendous amount of sense for consumer protection.”

As demand for premium sneakers has grown, a secondary market has bubbled up, and is now believed to be worth between $300 million to $1 billion.

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However, this isn’t the first time blockchain has been used to authenticate sneakers. Chronicled Inc, a vintage sneaker company, raised $3.4 million in 2016 for their “blockchain verification platform.”

Cardano released its testnet for the decentralized version of its blockchain last month, and is planning a major rollout of new features over the coming months.

Global Military Shoes Market 2019 Emerging Technologies Analysis and Future Business …

MRInsights.biz introduced a new title on Global Military Shoes Market 2019 by Manufacturers, Regions, Type and Application, Forecast to 2024 from …

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This is a professional and in-depth research report aimed at providing the world’s major regional market conditions of the industry, covering main regions and the main countries such as North America (United States, Canada and Mexico), Europe (Germany, France, UK, Russia and Italy), Asia-Pacific (China, Japan, Korea, India and Southeast Asia), South America (Brazil, Argentina, Colombia etc.), Middle East and Africa (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa).

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Moreover, the most affecting driving and restraining forces in the market are included and their positive, as well as the negative impact on the global market, is presented in the report. Key players in the global Military Shoes market are profiled based on their company profile, product portfolio, business segment, regional presence, a market recent development, financial presentation, mergers and acquisitions, distribution methods, and future techniques.

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Atoms nabs $8.1M for shoes you can buy in quarter sizes and separate left/right measurements

It is being led by Initialized Capital, the investment firm started by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan (both had first encountered Atoms …

The direct-to-consumer trend in fashion has been one of the most interesting evolutions in e-commerce in the last several years, and today one of the trailblazers in the world of footwear is picking up some money from a list of illustrious backers to bring its concept to the masses.

Atoms, makers of sleek sneakers that are minimalist in style — “We will make only one shoe design a year, but we want to make that really well,” said co-founder Sidra Qasim — but not in substance — carefully crafted with comfort and durability in mind, sizes come in quarter increments and you can buy different measurements for each foot if your feet are among the millions that are not exactly the same size — has raised $8.1 million.

The company plans to use the funding to invest in further development of its shoes, and to expand its retail and marketing presence. To date, the company has been selling directly to consumers in the U.S. via its website — which at one point had a waiting list of nearly 40,000 people — and the idea will be to fold in other experiences, including selling in physical spaces in the future.

This Series A speaks to a number of interesting investors flocking to the company.

It is being led by Initialized Capital, the investment firm started by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan (both had first encountered Atoms and its co-founders, Qasim and CEO Waqas Ali — as mentors when the Pakistani husband and wife team were going through Y Combinator with their previous high-end shoe startup, Markhor); 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.

Investors have come to the company by way of being customers. “The thing that I love about Atoms is that it isn’t just a different look, it’s a different feel,” said Ohanian in a statement. “When I put on a pair for the first time, it was a totally unique experience. Atoms are more comfortable by an order of magnitude than any other shoe I’ve tried, and they quickly became the go-to shoe in my rotation whenever I was stepping out. That wouldn’t mean anything if the shoes didn’t look great. Luckily, that’s not a problem, I wear my Atoms all the time and even my fashion designer wife is a fan.”

Even before today’s achievement of closing a Series A, the startup has come a long way on a relative shoestring: with just around $560,000 in seed funding and some of the founders’ own savings, Atoms built a supply chain of companies that would make the materials and shoes that it wanted, and developed a gradual but strong marketing pipeline with influential people in tech, fashion and design. (That success no doubt played a big role in securing the Series A to double down and continue to build the company.)

Within the bigger trend of direct-to-consumer retail — where smaller brands are leveraging advances in e-commerce, social media and wider internet usage to build vertically integrated businesses that bypass traditional retailers and bigger e-commerce storefronts to source their customers and sales more directly — there has been a secondary trend disrupting the very products that are being sold by using technology and advances in manufacturing. Third Love is another example in this category: The company has built a huge business selling bras and other undergarments to women by completely rethinking how they are sized, and specifically by focusing on creating as wide a range of sizes as possible.

So while companies like Allbirds — which itself is very well capitalised — may look like direct competitors to Atoms, the company currently stands apart from the pack because of its own very distinctive approach to building a mass-market business, but one that aims to make its product as individualised as possible.

You might think that approaching shoe manufacturers with the idea of creating smaller-size increments and manufacturing shoes as single items rather than pairs would have been a formidable task, but as it turned out, Atoms seemed to come along at the right place and the right time.

“We thought it would be challenging, and it wasn’t unchallenging, but the good thing was that many manufacturers were already starting to think about this,” Ali said. “Think about it, there has been almost no innovation in shoe making in the last 30 or 40 years.” He said they were happy to talk to Atoms because “we were the first and only company looking at shoes this way.” That helped encourage him and Qasim, he added. “We knew we would be able to figure it all out.”

Nevertheless, the pair admit that the upfront costs have been very high (they would not say how high), but given the principle of economies of scale, the more shoes that Atoms sells, the better the economics.

Currently the shoes sell for $179 a pair, which is not cheap and puts them at the high end of the market, so it will be interesting to see how and if price points evolve as it matures as a business, and competitors big and small begin to catch onto the idea of selling their own footwear at a wider range of sizes.

My colleague Josh, who first wrote about Atoms when they launched, is our own in-house tester, and as someone who could have easily moved on to another pair of kicks after he hit publish, he remains a fan:

“My Atoms have held up incredibly well from daily wear for 14 months,” he said. “They’re still my comfiest shoes and make Nikes feel uncomfortable when I try them again. They’ve sustained a tiny bit of wear on the front of the foam sole (the toe just below the fabric) while the bottoms have worn down a little, like any shoes.

“The mesh fabric can pick up dirt or dust if you take them in the wilderness, and the sole isn’t hard enough that you won’t feel point rocks. But throwing them in the wash or a rub with a brush and they practically look new. The elastic laces are incredibly convenient.

“I’ve probably tied them 4 times since first lacing them up. And for a cleaner, more professional look you can tuck the bow of your laces behind the tongue. Their biggest problem is they’re porous and can let water through if you wear them in the rain or puddles.

“Overall, I’ve found them to be my best travel shoes because they’re so versatile. I can walk all day in them, but then go to a fancy dinner or nightclub. I can hike or even hit the gym with them if necessary, and they pack quite flat. With the quarter-sizing and different use cases, they make Allbirds look like restrictive outdoor slippers. For adults who still want to wear sneakers, the monochromatic color schemes and brandless, simple styles make Atoms feel as mature and reliable as you can get.”

Ali said that among those who buy one pair, some 85% have returned and purchased more, and that’s before it has even gone outside the U.S. Qasim said there has been a lot of interest in other regions, but for now it’s still following its original formula of keeping the organisation and business small and tight, with no plans to expand to further countries for the moment.