Thursday, March 10, 2011

Vibram's New Shoe Testing Center

Here's the Wall Street Journal story, for those who have a subscription, and here's an excerpt, for those who don't:

"...Mr. Mendl says manufacturing soles for other shoe retailers remains the primary business of Vibram. But the VFFs now account for 30% of the firm's global sales. And while sales of the unusual-looking shoe were slow at first, the company sold 400,000 pairs in 2009, and 2.5 million pairs last year, Mr. Mendl says. In 2011, Vibram's global sales target is more than four million pairs. "We can't make them fast enough," says Mr. Mendl, who, along with 100 other mostly Chinese employees, lives on campus.

"The genesis of the shoe is partly due to the barefoot-running trend that has taken off in recent years in cities like New York and London, and which gathered pace following the success of Christopher McDougall's 2009 best-selling book "Born to Run."

"Proponents argue that the cushioning and structure of regular shoes lead to an intense heel strike that doesn't allow the wearer's feet to absorb shock well, potentially causing injuries. Barefoot runners—there are now dedicated websites, clubs and numerous books backing the trend—say running au naturale happens with a less-intense strike of the forefoot that rocks to the heel, putting less strain on the knees and spine.

"While debate still rages among running groups, podiatrists and fitness experts about the merits of barefoot running, several running-shoe manufacturers have looked to get in on the trend developing shoes that mimic the barefoot style. Nike and New Balance both have minimalist shoes that are lighter and encourage a midfoot strike. With the help of Vibram, North Face and Merrell too are due to release near-barefoot, minimalist models soon...."