Little did I know that Vibram has been around for quite some time as a compnay that made soles for high end hiking boots. It wasn’t until a few years ago that a mountaneer / industrial engineer, Robert Fliri, introduced the idea for the Five Fingers to the company. Since then they have blown up and demand has sky rocketed! Barefoot running is a craze that seems to keep getting bigger and bigger. Below is an article that discusses the beginnings of the Five Fingers and how they are dealing with counterfeit shoes and increasing demand.
Imagine: You make a really ugly shoe, but one that takes a unique approach to ergonomics. A best-selling book heaps praise on your funny-looking footwear. A scientific study in a national journal confirms your shoe’s structural excellence. Athletes go ballistic about your shoe, creating fan websites and buying the shoes faster than you can supply retailers.
Suddenly, you run smack into one of the perils of innovation: you’ve created such a heavy demand that someone else is trying to take advantage of it. In other words, you’ve attracted counterfeiters. They’re everywhere.
And you’re now locked into a war to protect your brand.
That’s the story of Vibram, an Italian company that for 75 years has made soles for high-end hiking boots. Six years ago, Robert Fliri, a mountaineer and industrial designer, approached the company with a novel idea. He proposed a lightweight shoe — essentially a glove for the foot — that would mimic the experience of going barefoot while protecting the wearer from dirt and abrasions. Fliri believed that his anti-shoes would enhance muscle development in the feet and improve a wearer’s range of motion, balance and posture.
Vibram started making Fliri’s five-toed shoes in 2006, dubbing the brand Vibram FiveFingers. In 2007, Time magazine named the shoe one of the year’s best health inventions. Two years later, Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, which touts the benefits of barefoot running, became a best-seller. And this year, a study by Harvard evolutionary biologists published in the journal Nature concluded that barefoot runners land on the balls of their feet, rather than on their heels, ultimately creating less joint stress and reducing injuries.
Customers were hooked. The shoes, which sell for $75 to $125, started showing up on runners at elite events such as the Boston Marathon. Revenue for FiveFingers shoes jumped to $11 million last year, up from $430,000 in 2006. This year, the company’s shoes — which include models for running, training, climbing, hiking and trekking — are on track to generate sales of $50 million. All of this is separate from Vibram’s $125 million annual business making soles.
The company now struggles to meet demand for FiveFingers shoes: It expanded from one factory to five this year and tripled the size of its Boston warehouse and office. About 90% of FiveFingers’ shoes are sold to American customers.
The weird look of Vibram FiveFingers naturally sparks conversations — and wearers are typically delighted to talk about them, spurring viral chatter on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. […]