Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Tom Guo and I launched Atlantis Shoes, an ethically-made footwear brand inspired by the slow fashion movement and Australian coastal lifestyle.
With our newest vegan sneaker range for kids, women, and men, I believe that you only need to have one great quality pair of shoes that could last for a lifetime. Atlantis Shoes’ design mission is to make classic, timeless footwear essentials that celebrate the philosophy of slow living.
Today's society encourages us to shop and consume more. The world of social media subconsciously affect our brains to compare us to each other, encouraging ourselves to buy more things to make us feel 'better' or 'happier'. This toxic concept is the opposite of what we believe at heart. We believe that all you need to have is one great quality of footwear that could last for a lifetime. When less is truly more, that is the heart of slow living and slow fashion.
The design process starts with us thinking about what we really want to wear right now. Launching only one collection per year, we source the most comfortable, durable, and sustainable materials possible to bring those designs to life.
The first thing about Atlantis Shoes’ aesthetic is, minimalist and the second thing is, easy. So being able to breathe and not being too flashy, that's really important. With our monthly revenue at $25,000, we managed to sell around 500 pairs each month and counting.
And check out our latest campaign video:
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Coming from a shoe craftsmanship and manufacturing background, I’ve been working with top global brands and producing shoe collection for for Fila, Kappa, and Champion to name a few.
After more than 10 years in the manufacturing business, it was a matter of working to get one great pair of shoe that could last for a long time, focusing on quality not quantity, and having the aim to reduce our global waste.
Do something that excites you, identify a niche, be driven. Come up with a good name, register your trademark, and define your brand principles.
Personally, I’ve always been a fan of sneakers and footwear manufacturing. That challenge and curiosity ultimately birthed Atlantis Shoes. After producing shoes for other brands for more than 10 years, it’s time for me to build my own thing. It was a risky business move as I need to leave everything behind and focus on building a brand from scratch. I began selling vegan footwear based on my ethics that no animals should be harmed for anything, even fashion. It was a desire to show that there was a better way to produce fashion for the environment, factory workers, and animals.
Our challenge now is how you take that same ethos and commitment to doing fashion differently, reuse that design model and grow and scale a company that can bring sustainable fashion to everyone.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
First of all, we create a sample. This could take a few weeks from design development, material sourcing, revision, and trial run. It takes us 60 days on average to launch a new product, from design concept to reaching the end consumer in-store. Our shoes are ethically made by two factories in Fuzhou where I live. Our shoes are lovingly crafted without any animal-derived materials such as fur, leather, wool, silk and animal-based glues. All our shoes are also EU-stamped approved, proving the test of quality control. Costing is also an important part of doing production. If a basic shoe is $15 the sample would be $30, shipping could be another $50. Doing your math right is important before producing anything.
In comparison to corporate life, doing your own business require you do get your hands dirty, being an all-rounder, and be humble. You know that everyone’s learning and got to start from the bottom to build an empire. Billions of shoes are made, why will people want yours? How to create your own shoe design? Do you have designs or do you need to hire a designer? This is a continuous learning experience.
We also support safe and eco-friendly methods of footwear production that reduce environmental degradation and waste, maintain the productivity of land over time, and support the economic viability of factories and rural communities.
I proudly support my local neighborhood where I grew up in Fujian and I source the manufacture there. To save on costing, freight is minimized where possible which is ultimately reducing our carbon footprint.
My aim is to design shoes that not only makes our feet feel good, but is good for the environment too. We choose to have our in-house employees, as it offers our brand a higher level of control of the ins and outs of the factory, including its waste, water and chemical management as well as recycling, while ensuring we retain agility and speed to market.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We started from scratch by building our online and offline presence, both locally and internationally.
From creating our own webstore, featuring our brands to regional and global e-commerce sites, to building up social media persona. For example: We listed Atlantis Shoes and consign them to Hard To Find, Amazon Fashion, and Catch of the Day. What you need to do is to e-mail them your lookbooks, pricing, bio, and social media links. Within these supports, we grab their customers and sell together, giving them commission profit.
Collaboration is key. We worked together a lot with like-minded emerging brands, local artists, and events.
One of the first sales we made was actually at a local weekend market in Crows Nest. Dealing with mostly online transactions, the experience to meet our very own customers in person is actually amazing. The biggest lesson is probably to reach out, work with people, and support each other. For example, we were able to have our pop-up space by sharing the cost with fellow independent brands. We’re stronger together.
Our greatest collaborations to date are Vogue Australia American Express Fashion’s Night Out and design competition with The Masters of Creative Education. With them, we’re able to launch a design competition with talented students while still supporting the local retail industry. Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/iHbI3xFsYKQ
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
On social media, giveaway and competition collaborations with influencers definitely work for us.
Product gifting is more affordable than paying someone to do a sponsored post. Again, depends on your capacity and business scale.
We think running an Instagram contest is one of the best ways to generate engagement and drive sales through Instagram. The key to running a successful contest is to have a purpose -- one that aligns with the interests and behaviors of your target audience. We have our audience follow us, leave a comment, and tag a friend to participate in this competition. This way, it creates more engagement to the post. Usually, the organic growth of followers is the success indicator. It creates more brand awareness.
We also try to capture outside customers from pop-up stores and sister websites by giving them a special gift voucher, as a token of appreciation from shopping with us. We distribute discount coupons. Usually to new clients, so they have a stimulus to make their first purchase. All of these will make clients feel special and encourage them to shop in our store.
By filling up the vendor application to other retailers, we managed to be listed on other retailers, both online and offline. Once your material's been submitted, give the buyer at least a few weeks before you follow up with a phone call or e-mail to ask for an appointment for a presentation or sending product sample.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Apart from our own online store, we have around 10 consignment stores and 10 e-commerce sites at the moment. As our long term goal, we want to put mindful materials back into your shoe shopping experience.
Consumers buy mindfully these days and there are so many great brands out there. Sustainability factor is definitely an essential in a product buying experience. We want to make better things, in a better way and the initial focus is footwear. We believe there is a massive opportunity to approach shoe-making differently.
One of our long term goal is to set up a sustainable concept store, catering footwear collection and mindful brands around the world, while still providing space for interactive activities that are useful for the community i.e. workshops or talks.
In the world of online shopping, people don’t remember the materials they possess, but the experience they get. You can see our day-to-day company workflow here via this video:
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
From our first collection, what we produced what more than what we actually need. We produced too many colour variants for just one style of flip flops. Seeing this challenge, we had a growing sense there was a need for a design aesthetic in casual footwear that avoided loud colors, huge logos and synthetic materials. From there, we created something simpler for the vegan sneaker range. It’s a learning experience.
We’re a values-driven brand. So when we first started out, actual transparency, while not explicitly written out, was—and has always been—a core tenet for why we exist. Consumers want to know where their product comes from. Consumers want to know where their shoes are made. They want to know the factory. And it doesn’t mean that if it’s made in China, it’s unethical and or bad quality. It’s a very bad stereotype and we want to diminish that. There’s more and more interest and desire to understand where the product is coming from and what impact it has.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Using Shopify as our e-commerce site base, we find it easy to use and affordable. Aside from that, my other favorite tool is actually Instagram Business Profile Insights, to track down how effective are my posts. In terms of the aesthetics, the templates are all professional in appearance, easy on the eye, and very slick in nature — no complaints at all here.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I always enjoy The Business of Fashion and Chanel 3.55 podcasts for global insights and inspirations regarding the fashion and business industry.
From Kirsten Stewart to Tilda Swinton, I love how I’m able to listen to the brightest personalities in the world of fashion and art to talk about creativity, boldness and freedom.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
We started with a sneaker, and the honest truth is that there are many great sneakers out there. How are we different? We make them sustainably and we sell them below $99. And that was really an important part of the mission—to create that great quality product and offer it at a great price.
Do something that excites you, identify a niche, be driven. Secondly, you got to come up with a good name, register your trademark, and define your brand principles. Last but not least, find your supplier, business partner, funding, and be open to changes and criticism. Anyhow, hopefully this offers you a bit of value. Good luck with it.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re opening internship opportunity, roles for fashion agents/sales rep for our wholesale channels that could expand Atlantis Shoes brand in Australia and globally. Feel free to email us at [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: www.atlantisshoes.com
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/atlantis.shoes
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/atlantisshoesau
Thanks for reading this! As a thank you gift, we generously give you a 30% off on all items (yes, including sneakers!) with discount code STAFF30 at www.atlantisshoes.com
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.
If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.
Interested in sharing your own story? Shoot me an email!