Vibram FiveFingers Want Your Feet to Be... Feet
Sitting on a shelf in Vibram’s new Los Angeles Connection Lab is a book titled Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. The book questions conventional running shoes by shining a light on a Mexican tribe of ‘super athletes’ called the Tarahumara and their astounding proficiency as barefoot runners.
Barefoot running and the simple idea of ‘a way to move around nature better’ are the fundamental philosophies behind the Vibram FiveFingers shoe, which was initially conceived by Robert Fliri and presented to Vibram in 2006. Today, the shoe is segmented into a few FiveFinger variations intended for training, running, watersports, and more.
Wearers of the FiveFingers are quick to point out its benefits: increased foot strength, better performance, and fewer injuries are some of the reasons that super-athletes, from Olympic weightlifters to ultra-marathoners, prefer to train and play in FiveFingers.
Vibram Group’s Product Line Manager Peter von Conta describes FiveFingers purely as a ‘tool’ and believes FiveFingers allows your body (and your feet) to become the technology. ‘FiveFingers allows you to enhance yourself. Instead of a promise, it’s a prompt. It’s giving you the opportunity to use something you already have, as opposed to having to buy a solution, which is something that the shoe industry feeds to us on a regular basis.’
But recently, alongside other outdoor technologies like GORE-TEX, Vibram has earned the interest and admiration of sneakerheads, who have developed an affinity for rain jackets and hiking shoes over the course of the last few years. Names like Merrell and New Balance both offer products with Vibram’s rubber soles, including the highly sticky Megagrip rubber compound.
But the fact that Vibram has now opened the doors to its Connection Lab in Los Angeles (joining similar spaces in Boston and Milan) shows that the Italian brand is very aware of its growing non-athlete audience. The opinion-splitting design certainly doesn’t align with the conventional beauty standards of the fashion industry, but the unique look of FiveFingers does make it an unmissable statement.
In 2021, Balenciaga tapped Vibram to re-work the FiveFingers style when the fashion house produced a small range of elevated FiveFingers silhouettes, including a calfskin leather boot. That first foray into the world of capital ‘F’ fashion won’t be the last from Vibram, either.
Rob Lee, Creative Director of Vibram’s Los Angeles Connection Lab, told Sneaker Freaker, ‘When Rihanna wore our Balenciaga x FiveFingers collaboration, we didn’t expect that, and it kind of blew up. I like seeing what’s happening on the fashion side and the casual-lifestyle side.’
Vibram’s Los Angeles space is situated in the emerging Arts District, next door to Vitra and around the corner from Dover Street Market. Lee mentions, ‘My responsibility here is to connect, link up, and collaborate with unique individuals or local companies.’ Vibram have already started to cultivate a relationship with local gym Movement Society, a space that emphasises the kind of barefoot training that FiveFingers is meant for.
But for the uninitiated, FiveFingers do take some getting used to, starting with getting them on your feet. Peter von Conta describes sliding your feet into a pair of FiveFingers as ‘parking five cars in five garages at once.’
My time with Vibram includes a light wear test that takes me to Griffith Park, where I experience the FiveFingers’ uncanny ability to grip uneven terrain and find purchase on pebbly paths. The FiveFingers truly do make your feet feel like another pair of hands.
Wearing a pair around downtown Los Angeles, it’s difficult to shrug off the feeling that passersby are leering at my feet. It’s a shoe that is apparently quite difficult to resist looking at or commenting on, judging by the responses to my Instagram story filling up my inbox. One friend memed, ‘The final boss of Gorpcore.’
Ultimately, the Vibram FiveFingers is a shoe that benefits from thoughtful design and genuine intent, but it’s also a product you absolutely must try for yourself in order to understand.
For even more insights into the unique Vibram FiveFingers, check out our wear test, ‘Dipping My Toes into the Vibram FiveFingers.’