Humans of New York Shines a Light on Atoms Shoes

Atoms founder Sidra Qasim is the latest subject to be profiled by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York photo series.

Qasim, who founded the sneaker brand with her husband, Waqas Ali, opened up about her experience growing up in a small town in Pakistan. The 11 part interview traces Sidra’s journey of living under a conservative Pakastani household to launching a footwear brand in New York City. The founders have received such an overwhelming response from the coverage, the brand has decided to give $30 off to Humans of New York readers on their signature sneaker.

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“Thank you for taking the time to read my story in Humans of New York. Although it was difficult to share so many intimate details of my private life, I hope that my story serves as an inspiration to young women around the world,” wrote Qasim on the brand’s website.

“It’s the same story taught to every Pakistani girl. We are raised from a young age to believe that our purpose in life is to find and keep a husband,” said Qasim to HONY.

The co-founder continued to explain that her family constantly pressured her to find a husband after high school. However, Qasim had bigger dreams. She met her husband, Waqas, at her aunt’s house. He was one of her aunt’s students.

“We’d discuss life, and society, and human emotions. It became the only chance I had to exchange my ideas with anyone. And Waqas took my opinions seriously,” the Atoms founder said.

When Qasim enrolled in college, she was one of the only 15 female students. After graduating, her now-husband asked her to move to the city of Lahore to study further and become his business partner.

“It finally felt as though my talents were being recognized, and the next day I asked for my parent’s permission. But they refused,” she told HONY.

Eventually, her parents granted her permission to move to the city, and she began to work with Waqas.

The couple’s original company, “Social Media Art,” sought to help brands create a social media presence online. After the business struggled to succeed, the two decided to go into the footwear industry after meeting a group of local craftsmen that were making leather shoes.

“We called our collection Hometown Shoes. And after we launched our website, the first order came in right away,” Qasim said.

After their launch, Sidra and Waqas married. They soon after applied for the Y-combinator accelerator program in San Francisco, which helps start-up company’s get their footing.

“The admissions process was more selective than Harvard, and they’d helped launch companies like AirBnB and Dropbox,” said the co-founder about the process.

The couple was accepted into the Y-combinator program, however, the experience didn’t quite go as planned for their initial brand. “We were the only company in our group who didn’t raise money. And to make matters even worse, it had been a formal event. Many of our classmates had dressed up. But none of them were wearing the shoes we had sold them,” she said about Demo Day, which served as a final presentation day for participants in the program.

Through trial and error, the couple decided to create a line of casual shoes rather than focusing on formal footwear, landing on the idea of Atoms.

“We researched the highest quality materials, and we put all of our findings into a document called ‘Ideal, Everyday Shoe.’ Then we gave all our notes to a talented designer. Together we built a prototype, and we called them ‘Atoms,’ because we’d gone to the atomic level in search of quality,” Qasim said.

Atoms specializes in comfortable sneakers and offers quarter sizing in addition to half and full sizes. The $129 shoes, which feature antimicrobial insoles, are available for both men and women.

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