The best thing
about the five-finger Vibram shoe Ė the craze has certainly reach
the tipping point Ė is that it lets the runner navigate terrain
that had previously been in accessible.
running, I had always been restricted to sidewalks and streets.
Now that I run as the bodyís frame and leg muscles intended, I can
utterly dominate and conquer nature itself, smashing under foot
pine straw, dirt, zoysia grass, centipede grass, bermuda grass,
small rocks, and every other rough-hewn path of earth you can find
in suburbia other than marshy land strewn with ant hills or dog
So of course
I decided to have a bonding moment with my dog and take him on my
nature run. I imagined two of Godís creatures running as we were
intended to do, he with his built ins and I with my Vibrams. He
was excited as always to see the leash, and off we went.
I landed on
the earth and took off. He stopped dead in his tracks. To my amazement,
he utterly refused to run with me as nature intended. It was sidewalks
for him or nothing. So I spent the rest of this humiliating journey
with the dog running wimpily on the sidewalks as I ran along the
small patch of edged lawn on either side.
I swear that
the whole time he kept looking at me with with a skeptical stare
as if to say: what the heck are you doing? So Iím wondering what
his little paws are good for. Do I have to find some doggie Vibrams
to get this pet to run as he should? After all, it is true that
this breed of dog would not have evolved in nature. With my Vibrams,
Iím even more the beast than this designer dog is willing to be.
This new innovation
in shoes is one of the more spectacular entrepreneurial moves Iíve
ever witnessed. To those who are out of the loop, the theory goes
that shoes with heels encourage us to run (and it applies to walking
too) on our heels first, but that approach is contrary to what our
bodies really want to do. Running barefoot, you can easily see what
happens. We land on the balls of our feet. This changes everything.
The center of gravity shifts. We use new muscles. For the first
time, our toes actually seem to have a role in keeping our balance.
The awkwardness of running (or walking) goes away and we experience
a new-found stability.
If you donít
believe the logic, you can watch some amazing promotional videos
that appeal to the boyhood fantasy that the right pair of shoes
will make you jump higher and run faster than all your peers.
All of this
makes strange sense in some way. I had been very skeptical for several
reasons. It seemed to me that heels have been around for a very
long time, and it seemed positively crankish to believe that they
are really the enemy of health and well being. And yet, someone
pointed out to me that running shoes with big shock-absorbing heels
are really an innovation of the 1970s and that running shoes before
then tended to be flat. I have a vague memory of this. Score one
for the five-finger crowd.
Also, I tend
to be skeptical of any new and zany theory that seems to have all
the answers. You are hit with a blizzard of seemingly logical points
and havenít really considered the other point of view.
is a case in point. It was supposed to be the answer to all back
problems, returning us to our natural state as from the womb and
ridding us of the unnatural and distorting hard bed weíve always
known. Presented with this argument, it is really difficult to come
up with a counterargument. All you can really say is: that sounds
I was actually
in the furniture business at the tail end of the waterbed mania.
It turns out that people were sick of sloshing around in water while
they slept. They kept demanding ever more "bevels" to
dampen the sloshiness. The companies kept adding and adding to meet
consumer demand until the point that the water bed seemed more-or-less
like a mushy regular bed.
the waterbed craze passed. Everyone felt a bit silly about the whole
thing, and that was it.
shoe craze is even more intense. It is entrepreneurship on overdrive.
The shoe only hit the market in 2005, and now consider. You go into
a regular sports store that has perhaps 1000 shoes on the wall of
every color, variety, and style. You stand back from this display
and look. Not one of them is without a heel. Not one of them has
fingered-toes. Whereas last week you would have loved shopping and
shopping here, today you suddenly look at this gigantic display
as the enemy of your quality of life.
What has changed?
Nothing other than the information that seeped into your head.
else you want to say about this marketing strategy, it is breathtakingly
brilliant. Sure enough, I asked about shoes with the new theory
behind them. Do you carry any? The sales clerk looked at me sheepishly
and said: we are sold out.
But is it just
another case of the waterbed, something that seems to make sense
for now but in a few years we will all wake up and realize that
this was just goofy?
I can only
speak from my experience so far, and it is very good. After a few
crippling days in which long asleep muscles screamed in agony, and
every time I got up from a chair I walked like an old man, it has
been pure joy. Running is something I do but never enjoyed. Now
I enjoy it. My endurance is better. I love being able to run wherever
I want to. Nothing on my body hurts, and I really imagine that this
is improving my overall sense of balance.
Am I a victim
of a hoax? Maybe. And maybe millions of others are too. But for
now, it is meeting a need, and I am in absolute awe of the genius
that it took to dream up this idea.
Only a few
years ago, another company swept all before it with the invention
of Crocs the most implausible shoe ever. Immediately on the market
the company faced legions of impersonators. They attempted again
and again to gain a legal monopoly but fortunately failed for the
most part. So the company fought back the old fashioned way: through
amazing marketing and innovation.
has tried the same shady methods of patent enforcement, suing everyone
in sight. Itís dumb: impersonators are inevitable. And much welcome.
It too had better continue to innovate and lower prices. One thing
weíve learned for sure: no company can succeed on patent lawsuits
How do you
make a buck in a world of free markets? Work hard, innovate, take
a risk, serve society, and sell like crazy. Vibram has done all
of this. Say what you want about these shoes, the company that pushed
them out there has made a dent in the universe.