10 Years of Vibram FiveFingers
Thoughts on the 2016 Anniversary Re-Release of the Classic: Rebirth of a legend, or missed opportunity?
How it all began — Roberto Fliri, in association with Vibram, had been working for years to develop a shoe that would maximally respect the natural anatomy of the foot while staying as close to the ground as possible. The result being the now legendary Fivefingers 'Classic." (You can read more on Fliri via this interview here).
The precise timeline has been muddied by the years—when the first Fivefingers exactly hit the market is uncertain: probably around 2003 or 2004. What seems clear is that 2006 was a pivotal year: the Fivefingers concept made its first appearance in the U.S.; and with the Vibram FiveFingers Classic model the basis was laid for a new and exciting niche market in the rising category of barefoot shoes: toe-shoes.
It is hard for people that are new to FiveFingers to fathom just how much "Vibrams" or "VFFs" and the Classic model were once one and the same thing. Only at a later time came "The Sprint," "Flow" and — now, also legendary — KSO. There were even one or two other, more obscure models of FiveFingers early on (e.g. the Surge), but the vast majority of FiveFingers models emerged over the last four years.
Back to the Classic: In 2005 and 2006 Vibram had been experimenting in Italy/Europe with a lot of different colors (some very bright) for their standard model. The Classic being the only model available it was a way to diversify and attract attention to a new product. Many of those (sometimes very bright) colors were produced in very small numbers and even withdrawn from the stores as the sole was changed to a new type of softer rubber in late 2006 (?)/2007 and the colorways became slightly less exuberant. Other early adjustments were the improved protective 'yellow padding', at the Achilles tendon, and a different elastic tab. Only a few of those early color options made it to the US market.
For a look into those crazy color early days, take a look at the lead picture of this article as well as the examples below or check this vid or the Vibram "just for me" website, that is still online.
From 2009 on Vibram really had to struggle to keep up production on par with the ever growing demand for their basic Classic/Sprint/KSO models, but they kept developments going. The coming of the Bikila, Speed and KSO Trek all were hallmarks, while at the same time, the general public got accustomed to seeing Classics, Sprints and KSO's as the standard models. The KSO quickly surpassed the original Classic and Sprints in terms of sales.
Gradually over the years, the Classic's share of total Fivefingers sales in an ever growing catalog line-up diminished. The Vibram marketing drifted away from the Classic as well: public attention needed to be drawn to newer models, and the Classic kind of lost its appeal.
It is too bad Vibram lost touch with the original Classic this way. It might have been a business decision: stores will only sell so many different models, and there have been (perhaps too) many new models to present over the years. Great developments were made, admittedly: the revamped KSO 'EVO' being one of the highlights for me.
However, Vibram had a strong and recognizable product with their original model, and just like Gillette's razor or Bic's ballpoint pin, Classic FiveFingers could have stayed their 'basic' shoe for a long time to come. Instead, they phased it out completely.
Given its simple, minimalist yet functional design, many experienced Fivefingers wearers still name the Classic as one of their favorite FiveFingers models. Women have been more lucky as available options like the VI-B are basically a variant of the Classic. Other (male) customers that didn't buy a spare pair while they still could have no other option than searching on Ebay when their Fivefingers Classics give up the ghost and need to be replaced.
A possible solution?
Perhaps a new color option every summer or so could have kept the Classic more 'alive'. There is also the question of the price tag: A Classic is easier to make than let's say a KMD EVO. Not everyone is willing to pay big bucks for a pair of toeshoes, especially if it's their first try with Fivefingers. I can see a place there for the Classic as well. The special Classic FiveFingers "Olympics Edition" that was offered at a lower price point was a good commercial move, in my humble opinion. I collected the whole set!
For Spring/Summer 2016, the word on the street is that Vibram decided to reboot the good old Classic and KSO for the 10th anniversary. While this in itself is good news, sadly enough, the Classic FiveFingers "Reboot" will only be offered in standard black!
While some people might prefer a more stealth approach to Fivefingers, it has been 5-6 years since "toe shoes" became hugely popular and widely recognized (around the time Born to Run became a NYTimes bestseller). Today, you can go "stealth" and "minimalist" in any number of ways without toe pockets as with FiveFingers.
In other words, perhaps it is safe to say most people that wear toe shoes are happy to be noticed. By extension, a boring black release might not be all that interesting. Notably, the last real new color that was sold was the Europe-only 'white-blue-white' in Navy that looked really good and was a re-issue of a 2006 colorway (see the picture of mine above).
Said differently, taking a look at the pictures in this post, I have a hard time believing you don't see anything that preferable or more interesting than straight black! What about the 2007 grey-blue that was a turning point? Seems like a lot of these could spur a new interest in the Classic.
Sure, I'm biased—I clearly love Classic FiveFingers! What do you think? Let's hear it from you to Vibram in the comments!