By Courtney DiFonzo
You may have seen a new and unusual shoe trend lately on campus. They resemble brightly colored socks with individual toe encasements, and they are the newest trend in the world of outdoor adventure. They are called Vibram FiveFingers, and at first glance the shoes resemble a frog’s foot, but the outlandish design happens to be the catalyst for the recent increase in sales.
After you see these shoes, you won’t be forgetting them anytime soon.
“[Bill Jackson’s] has been carrying them for four years,” said Trent Mullett, the camping department expert at Bill Jackson’s adventure shop, “and since I’ve been here we’ve been selling them nonstop.”
“The sales have definitely increased year after year,” said Kristen Murphy, a customer service representative for Vibram FiveFingers.
Cassandra Lubbers, a senior anthropology major at USF, is what some may call a hippie, but also a Vibram enthusiast. She is the vice president of USF’s Rock Climbing club, and has become an avid fan of the FiveFinger shoes. They makes her bare-footed nature not only socially acceptable, but also comfortable and safe for her recreational activities.
“My first opinion of them was that they looked like gorilla toe socks, but they were intriguing and unique,” said Lubbers, who first learned about the Vibram shoes three years ago from her boyfriend.
While a handful of people in the Rock Climbing club wear the FiveFinger shoes, Lubbers did note that she sees more and more of these unique shoes at USF everyday. “I have seen a lot more people wearing them,” said Lubbers, “not necessarily for the right reasons though. More to look cool.”
Besides the aesthetic differences, Vibram shoes are created differently to help improve balance and release unnecessary stress on the spine by forcing you to walk on the balls of your feet. Since your foot is no longer bound in a single position, you have free range of motion that feels natural. “They also help decrease shin splints when running,” said Mullett.
The Vibram shoes sizes are also far more specific than other shoes. A person’s optimal shoe size is determined by an actual measurement of the foot down to one-fourth of an inch so the shoe will fit like a second skin. There are even specific styles for wider feet or a higher instep.
Yet there is a small issue with the Vibram shoes: they cannot be custom made. The sizes have a vast range, but if you happen to have an unusual toe count, Vibrams cannot make you a custom SixFinger.
Unlike other work-out shoes, such as Skechers Shape-Ups, the Vibram shoes are made for outdoor activities and even have specific designs for different sports.
The Vibram “Classics” are the original everyday collection while the “Sprint” collection is made specifically for versatility and jogging. The “Flow” has thicker insulation for colder temperatures and water sports, and the KSO (Keep Stuff Out) has a razor-siped outer sole for better traction. There is also the “Treksport” designed to endure rugged outdoor terrain and the “Bikila” for high performance running. Vibram even has a line of FiveFinger shoes for kids.
“We don’t sell much of the ‘Classics’ or the ‘Sprints’,” said Mullett, “but the ‘KSO’ and ‘Kila’ are out of stock constantly.”
Not everyone sees the FiveFingers shoes as a fashionable alternative to sneakers though. “I think those shoes are hideous,” said Jacob Senkbeil, a junior biochemical major. “I don’t care if they make my feet flame-resistant, I would never wear them.”
“We have been barefoot since the beginning of humans,” said Lubbers, “and [regular] shoes do not form to your feet like Vibrams do. They are more natural, yet still protect you from garbage and debris.”
While the shoes are made thin enough to give you the sensation of being barefoot, they are made to endure rugged terrain and last for years. “They are made specifically for outdoor use,” said Mullett. “I haven’t gotten a single complaint on them since I’ve worked here.”
“I mainly wear them when I go hiking,” said Nichols, a junior business major. “They have a lot of traction and it’s seriously like being barefoot, just with bonus protection.”
Unlike other shoe fads, the Vibrams have just increased in popularity since 2008. “Crocs hit for a while and kind of died off, but these [Vibram FiveFingers] are staying strong,” said Mullett.
“I think the sales are just going to keep increasing,” agreed Murphy. All we can do is wait and see if the barefoot trend catches on, or see if our Vibrams are ultimately doomed to be thrown in the back of the closets next to our Heelys.