Vibram, I’m sorry. It’s me, not you. Really. We had some good times. I just think we’re heading in different directions. I mean, I really appreciate everything you’ve done. For a few years, you were the one. You captured my heart. But then you changed. You started getting… you know… bigger. You started adorning yourself a little to much. I liked you when you were simple. You were everything I needed and wanted. Now… I’m not so sure. I’ll be honest… there are more fish in the sea. I kinda like these other fish. Don’t worry though, I’m sure you will find plenty of others. You’ve got a unique look. You’re popular enough… you won’t have any problems finding someone else.
Back in the day, the Five Fingers were THE answer. I LOVED my KSOs. I used them for speed work. I wore them to the gym. They were my default winter shoe. I ran a 100 miler in them. They had their limitations, notably horrible traction and a god-awful stench. Still, they served the purpose.
The only other realistic option were aqua socks, which were usually ill-fitting and lacked durability. In my opinion, they were a distant second choice.
Terra Plana’s EVO changed the game. While the shoe had some flaws, it gave runners a viable alternative to Vibrams. I liked the original EVOs, and used them at about the same frequency as my KSOs.
Vibram made an effort to produce some good shoes. In some cases, they succeeded (Treks). In some cases, they failed (Flows, Bikilas… though many people LOVE their Bikilas). In my opinion, they never improved on the original KSO design circa 2008.
I am also dismayed at their inability to meet demand this last year coupled with their apparent drop in quality control.
Despite these short-comings, Vibrams aren’t bad. My souring probably has more to do with the competition. The once-barren true minimalist shoe market is beginning to explode. Terra Plana’s EVO II is a significant improvement, which moved it ahead of KSOs (my opinion). New Balance is producing their promising Minimus line, though it apparently utilizes a raised heel. Inov-8 released their X-Talon 190 (my preferred mud shoe) and F-Lite 195 (have not tested yet) and rumored BareGrip 200. There are other new kids on the block (who has “The Right Stuff” running through their head right now?) like Skora, ZEM, Merrell, GoLite, SoftStar, and of course, Barefoot Ted McDonald’s Luna huaraches. Simply put, there are better options available or in the pipeline.
Vibram’s case isn’t helped by their seeming unwillingness to support anything the barefoot running community develops. When the Barefoot Runners Society was being formed, Vibram wouldn’t even accept our offer for free advertising.
Along similar lines, Vibram has done a poor job of educating their customers about the potential issues new minimalist shoe runners may experience. While this has been a boon for me (in regards to book sales and site traffic), I think Vibram could have afforded some sort of education program.
While I still like the fact that VFFs stimulate more conversation than both barefoot and other minimalist shoes, it’s just not the best tool for most runs. I think they will continue to grow in popularity, but the peak will occur sooner than later. Eventually the VFF toe-pocketed design will join acid-washed jeans and the mullet… fads that can only be found in Walmart.
Of course, the company itself does some great stuff. They make world-class soles from non-minimalist footwear. Given their recent foray into minimalist shoe outsole design, I suspect they will shift their focus from the Five Fingers to more of a support role. Time will tell, I guess.
What are your thoughts? My readers range from experienced barefoot runners to minimalist shoe fanatics to complete novices. How do YOU perceive Vibrams these days? Has it changed over the last few years?