Summary:

When Irishman David Bonney had the idea of creating high quality shoes for atheists, he had no idea that the company he started would flourish, with orders coming in from many parts of the world.

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At the beginning of 2012, I received an email from fellow atheist David Bonney, notifying me that he was about to launch a fundraising campaign with the aim of setting up a company that would create shoes for nonbelievers. He wanted my help, as editor of The Freethinker, to get the word out.

I was more than happy to help Bonney and wrote a piece about him. Almost at once, his project gained enormous traction. This was in large part due to the fact that a prototype was posted on Reddit Atheism, along with the words:

I’m a godless shoemaker and I’ve made an atheist shoe…what do you think?

In April 2012, Bonney launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the first batch of footwear, raising almost $60,000.

He brought in sufficient funds to set up a manufacturing unit in Berlin, Germany, and orders came pouring in.

Image via Radar Magazine

Publicity came from many other sources too, including the American fashion and lifestyle magazine, Radar.

In a piece Bonney wrote for Installation magazine, he said:

I had the idea to create some kind of Atheist brand … I deeply felt that Atheism was a topic of real importance and deserving of more visibility. The concept behind an Atheist shoe is rather peculiar but that’s why I liked it. Thankfully my friends also liked it and wanted to help make it a reality.

The company’s brilliant site, peppered with humor, explains that the first atheist shoe:

Came into being on an artistic whim; we had a hunch that the world might be a better place if non-believers were more open about their godlessness, so we embossed the words ‘ICH BIN ATHEIST’ on a shoe sole… because what better vehicle is there for expression of one’s intellectual positions than a shoe?! (ok… books, Twitter, the human voice… all better vehicles for expression, but shoes can’t be far behind). 

Anyhow, we made that first shoe… chiefly to tickle ourselves… not thinking much of it. But then, when we posted a picture on Reddit, in January 2012, it BLEW UP, reaching the front page of the internet and leading to 1000s of emails asking where to buy our shoes. Overnight, what began as casual whimsy turned into a business.

Atheist Shoes’ humor extends to their products. These boots are described as “kitten testicle grey”. Image courtesy of Atheist Shoes.

Following on the success of his first fundraiser campaign, Bonney set up a second one to bring a mobile Atheist Shoe store to the US, one that would bring:

Comfort & godlessness to the USA, via a bus full of handmade shoes & a whole lotta love from friendly European atheists.

That campaign yielded over $27,000.

David Bonney promoting Atheist Shoes in Hollywood. Image via YouTube.

Atheist Shoes says:

We’re proud to be independent—unhindered by the conventions of big shoe brands. For example, we don’t use retailer middlemen or spend anything on advertising, preferring instead to sell direct to any customers who find their way to us organically. 

It means our customer base is small, and growth isn’t a super priority for us. But it also means we can afford to spend more on higher quality materials than other shoe brands, whilst keeping the price of our shoes reasonable, selling for about half what you’d pay elsewhere for such tip-top, handmade quality.

This is awesome because (a) our handiwork is accessible to more people and (b) we don’t have to spend time in salesy business meetings, and can instead just enjoy making shoes. 

On learning that the company is celebrating its 10 anniversary this year, I stepped out into brilliant Easter sunshine today in the blue pair I bought just after David and his team set up shop. Thanks to the care I lavished on them over the years, they are as smart and comfortable today as they were when they arrived from Germany.

Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....