Ever since the VFF community heard that the new fivefingers KSO Trek would only be available for men* back in late August, many women and not a few men (with smaller feet) have voiced their frustration and concerns:
Why isn't Vibram making a women's version of the fivefingers KSO Trek?
It's a good question, and fortunately, after Vibram marketing rep Gerogia Shaw's interview with LivingBarefoot (highlights here | podcast here — interview starts around minute 53), we have an answer.
In short, the decision on the KSO Trek was made in early 2008 based on existing demand for the then available fivefinger models as broken down by gender. Specifically, as the full-coverage KSO fivefinger was the top seller for men but only a distant third place for women, Vibram made the determination to produce the KSO Trek for men only.
If you want to read the specifics, below you'll find a transcript of what Georgia Shaw said in the podcast about the KSO Trek decision (Bracketed portions are my paraphrasing of the questions asked):
[First, Georgia Shaw makes some comments about customer feedback regarding the KSO Trek]:
I would personally love to see a women's Trek in the future. Since the release of the Trek for men we've heard feedback from women who are asking us to acknowledge them in the line and we certainly hear that. So while I can't ever make promises about future products what I can assure everyone is that we always listen to our consumer feedback very closely and make a sincere effort to make products that meet the demand of the market so the more we hear back from women who are interested in trying this model, the more likely it is for us to answer that.
[In response to a question about how the decision on the KSO Trek was made:]
Absolutely and it wasn't a decision that was made lightly. Like I said before, we've always done our best to stay very close to the consumer to drive the direction of the brand. So early last year when we were making plans for the Trek line, the full coverage KSO was, and actually still is, the most popular style for men, so for women, the most popular style was the Sprint model followed by the Classic and the KSO was a distant third. So at the time, there was no evidence that a full coverage KSO Trek would even sell as a women's shoe. And then alternately we had all the confirmation that it would be a top seller for men because of the proof we had in the KSO model. So it really was a consumer driven decision.
[Do you know the actual gender breakdown on sales?]
Not off the top of my head but I do know that it was very very clear that the women's Sprint model and the Classic model were the clear winners for women. And for men it was just a very blatant difference between the two genders. And not to say we didn't have women wearing the KSO but it was glaring that the men's KSO, that full-coverage model, was really the more popular model for men. We really wanted to make sure that when developing a shoe like the KSO Trek that does have a much higher price point that we do have a market for it. We didn't want present anything to our women consumers that they weren't going to be interested in.
[If women want the KSO Trek they should make their voices heard]
Right I always recommend that. We take it very seriously.
I think this transcript is important for a few reasons. For one, it illustrates that Vibram is keenly interested in supplying VFFs that meet customer demands—think about it this way: despite tripling their sales on existing fivefingers models, Vibram is still working actively to add compelling new models like the Moc, Performa, KSO Trek, and Bikila to the line-up.
We can also glean from this transcript just how long it can take to go from making a production decision to having a product to sell (by my count, as long as a year and a half).
Furthermore, it shows just how difficult it is to predict the future. This point may seem trivial at first blush, but it is important to understand: when Vibram made the KSO Trek decision, their sales were a mere fraction of what they are today when the KSO Trek is finally available for purchase — it's this inability to predict future customer needs that has bottlenecked the availability of VFFs, generally.
Understanding that Vibram is trying to gauge future demand for a wholly-new product that, surprise, is growing exponentially in demand despite an abysmal economic environment isn't going to change the fact that people still would like their FiveFingers today (but can't find their size/color/model) or that want KSO Treks in women's sizes (but can't have them because they don't exist — yet anyway). But it may make you feel a bit more sympathetic to their predicament.
Then again, maybe not.
Update: Vibram greenlighted the KSO Trek for women and small-footed men!
Either way, if you would like to have your voice heard in a very tangible way, someone has set up a a petition in favor of a women's KSO Trek. I see this more as a poll than anything else, so if you want to be heard, here's your chance.
* Or women who wear sizes 41 and 42 in women's KSOs — see the sizing chart)