Vibram Five Fingers Jaya [Barefoot] Toe Shoes
Vibram is introducing a brand new style of Five Fingers for women in Spring 2011 called the Jaya (Also see the similar, but leather-clad Jaya LR Five Fingers). The Vibram Five Fingers Jaya appears to offer an excellent minimalist feel with a fashion-forward aesthetic and should be a great choice for women looking for a knock-around toe shoe for casual wear, travel, or fitness.
The technical specifications on the Jaya from the 2011 Vibram Five Fingers catalog:
"The Vibram FiveFingers Jaya fosters grace and power in a minimalist design. Created specifically for the modern fitness enthusiast, the stretch nylon upper and padded collar comfortably secure the foot during exercise. The athletic upper provides coverage that will secure the Jaya on the foot. The 5.5mm EVA sole makes the Jaya one of the lightest models in our collection. Strategically placed Vibram TC1 performance rubber pads provide grip and durability to this unique sole design. The Jaya can be worn for a variety of indoor and outdoor fitness activities requiring balance, agility and power. Machine Washable, Air Dry."
The Five Fingers Jaya features a newly designed sole that might be described as a cross between the Moc / Performa / Performa Jane sole and the standard Classic Five Fingers (or Sprint) sole. Throw in a dash of Honda ASIMO and/or albino alien and you get the Jaya / Jaya LR sole platform.
On a more technical basis, what makes the Jaya's new sole tech worth consideration is that it is mostly composed of flexible and lightweight EVA (as opposed to standard Vibram rubber). If you take a look at the Jaya sole (as in this photo), 95% of the white material you see in the sole is EVA. This is the same material you may have noticed gracing the arch portion of the sole on the Bikila (or the 2011 Komodo). What's interesting about EVA is that it gives readily under pressure — it's not stiff like the standard rubber used throughout Vibram soles. By building the Jaya's sole upon a foundation of EVA, you get a more pliable Vibram Five Fingers model (thus, this is why it's more like the indoor-only, uber-minimalist "leather foot gloves" — the Moc, Performa, and Performa Jane).
That said, EVA isn't as durable as standard Vibram rubber, which is why Vibram has strategically implanted "pods" of Vibram rubber onto the Jaya sole — at the heel, forefoot (five pods) and at the ends of each toe — the pink stuff in the photos (And the remainining white at the tips of the toes is also standard rubber).
You can see just how little structure the EVA foundation provides the Jaya by taking a look at how it rests when laid flat on a table. Note how the Jaya sort of arcs from front to back: regular Vibram Five Fingers models simply lay flat front to back.
I asked my sister, the foot model in the photos below, to do a same-foot comparison between the Jaya sole and the standard Five Fingers sole of her Sprints. Per her evaluation, it's easier to flex her toes in the Jaya than in the Sprint, which speaks a good deal to the merit of this design.
The EVA is 5.5mm thick on the Jaya sole (at least in places; it doesn't look to be that thick across the entire sole and is pretty thin in spots like the arch and mid-toe, for example): this is thicker than the 3.5 mm rubber sole in standard VFFs. How this added thickness will impact ground feel is not yet understood. EVA isn't as stiff as straight rubber, so maybe the thickness doesn't really matter. I'd guess EVA also wears down and "thins" with use, so this might make the Jaya "break in" to being more barefoot over time. Also, how the pod/EVA portions of the Jaya will transfer ground feel is not yet fully tested.
Regardless, I like the concept of trying to create a more flexible — and lightweight Vibram Five Fingers model (the Jaya only weighs an ounce more than the Performa Jane).
Finally, the Jaya features a new upper design that rises higher on the foot, has no elastic bands to cinch (as with Classics) or straps to tighten (as with every other model). Looks like the extra coverage is enough to keep the Jaya on your foot! The Jaya also features the quickly-becoming-standard heel-cup, which will assuredly make them quite comfortable.
Vibram Five Fingers Jaya vs. Jaya LR
Nearest I can tell, the major difference between the Jaya and the Jaya LR is that the LR features leather stripes across the top, lending it a more expensive look. Also, the Jaya LR doesn't have the heel cup ankle padding that you get with the Jaya. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so you'll have to hop over to the Vibram Jaya LR page and see for yourself (Note: the Jaya LR write-up is similar to the Jaya as both models share most features in common).
Does the Jaya fill a niche in the Vibram Five Fingers line?
No doubt a simple pair of Vibram Classics or Sprints can do anything the Jaya can do; however, these models weigh more and don't seem to allow as much foot flex/twist/bending as you might be able to get with the Jaya. The jury is still out until these models hit the streets en masse sometime in Spring 2011. For now, the Jaya has me intrigued.
Unfortunately, intrigued is all I'll be as only small-footed men will be able get the Jaya — it's women's only. Sorry guys.
What say you? Sound off in the comments here!
Photos of the Vibram Five Fingers Jaya in white and pink
(Note: got two right Jaya shoes, so only took photos of one!)
The 2011 Vibram Five Fingers line-up (links will go live as the pages are up this week!)