It’s not every day a cobbler catches Reddit’s attention. Then again, David Bonney, 33, of Berlin, Germany, isn’t your average cobbler.
He’s a fashion-savvy ex-advertiser who also specializes in Atheist shoes—yes, shoes that proclaim a lack of belief in God. And thanks to Reddit’s huge atheism community, Bonney has just seen his Kickstarter project called Atheist Shoes collect more than $16,000 in less than 48 hours.
Last December Bonney handmade his first pair of his calfskin shoes featuring a laser cut sole with “ICH BIN ATHEIST” (which is “I am atheist” in German) written on it. He posted photos of his creation on Reddit where the sites r/atheism community praised his design and helped the thread reach the top of the front page on Jan. 14. The post also inspired more than 1,000 people to send him messages asking how to get their hands on some shoes.
“It was mind blowing,” Bonney told the Daily Dot in an exclusive interview. “It just changed everything.”
So with the help of a cobbler in Berlin, Germany, and a Portugese shoe workshop, Bonney launched a $30,000 Kickstarter project Saturday to manufacture the kicks and create a website. The project has since collected 115 backers, 83 of which have paid pre-paid for a pair of atheist shoes.
“I had some very touching emails like one from a teenager who just came out to his Christian parents as an atheist,” Bonney said. “He said his mother agreed to buy him atheist shoes for his birthday and that she loved him for who he is. And it made me think that this is a serious thing.”
Bonney’s first exposure to the world of fashion happened when he was a young boy growing up in Dublin, Ireland. His main inspiration was his mother.
“She was a child of the 60s. She always looked good,” Bonney said. “I grew up as a metrosexual kid who was playing in his mother’s wardrobe.”
As a young adult Bonney moved to London where he worked in advertising. Over a five year period, Bonney collaborated with a range of clients including beer companies, Volkswagen, and the fashion industry, all while looking for that elusive perfect shoe.
Bonney moved to Berlin with his girlfriend in 2008 and came up with the idea for the atheist sneaker late last spring while sitting in a cafe with a friend who is a painter. The pair discussed one of his works that featured characters with the letter “t” painted on their shoes and the creative lightbulb went off.
“I said, ‘You should extend it into a crucifix and we can make some Jesus shoes. We can sell them. It would be very funny,’” Bonney said. “We laughed and we didn’t feel very good about it considering we were atheists. But the idea stayed with me.”
Bonney met with a local cobbler who taught him the basics of shoe making, including how to stretch calfskin leather over a last, a wooden block shaped like a foot. It took Bonney four weeks to make one pair and in the end, it inspired him to share his creation with the world.
“From my advertising background, I was so sick of working with brands where the product was not very special but they put this layer of gloss on it with all these emotions and feelings that didn’t mean much. I had said to my bosses that our future should be designing brands that actually matter to people and that have some kind of purpose and values at the center of them.
“Then when the idea of atheism occurred to me. I thought I’d really like to do something I believe in—which is nothing.
Then I thought, an atheist shoe. I’d love to make atheism more visible. I think that would be a very positive thing. But I also wouldn’t want to be responsible for putting horrible garish T-shirts out there, with ratty atheist slogans on them. I thought it would be nice to do something more understated and subtle and a shoe was perfect for that. It’s just barmy.”
Bonney is currently working with a Portuguese workshop that employs about 20 cobblers to have the shoes ready for delivery by May 1. Hand stretching the calf skin leather over the last takes about three weeks, but thanks to some fancy machines, the Portugese shop can accomplish this in just a few minutes, Bonney said. And each shoe will feature the iconic Darwin-inspired soles and a subtle black circle to represent atheism.
“Nothing captured the essence of atheism, which is in fact an absence of anything. The symbols were all too clever or a little bit ugly,” Bonney said. “So I thought a black hole was a kind of nice, tongue-in-cheek, nihilistic thing.”
News of Bonney’s Kickstarter pleased redditors. Bonney posted a link to the Kickstarter Sunday where more than 100 people praised the project and his follow through.
“I can’t wait to do a special dance in these shoes,” commented koffinkat. “From one David to another, congrats and good luck!”
Bonney hasn’t received any backlash (yet) from religious groups regarding his shoes, despite the fact that most people haven’t even heard of them. He even hopes that religious people can look past its atheist message and embrace the sneakers for its design.
“If you take the power out of dogma and fundamentalism by just being more lighthearted about it, it’s kind of nice,” he said.