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VIBRAM, THE INGENIOUS ALL ITALIAN SHOE WITH “FINGERS’

VIBRAM, THE INGENIOUS ALL ITALIAN SHOE WITH “FINGERS’

Vibram’s novel shoe, called Vibram Fivefingers, is really a glove for feet which helps wearers rediscover the foot’s extraordinary capacity to move freely. “A true revolution in footwear production” was the reason given when the latest Unindustria prize for Italian creativity was awarded to Vibram for the Fivefingers sole, which is now enters the roll of honour alongside Made in Italy legends such as Benetton, Geox, Beghelli, Brembo and Dainese.

Even “Time” magazine included Fivefingers among the most ingenious products of recent years. They can be called shoes, but in reality, they are a type of glove for the feet with five toes. Some use them at home, some use them for trekking and some run marathons in them: for everyone the sensation is like walking barefoot, directly in contact with the ground.

The story of the business - which is based in Albizzate, in the province of Varese – begins a long time ago, at the start of the twentieth century. Its founder was Vitale Bramani, a passionate mountain climber from Turin. In 1935, while acting as a guide to an Alpine expedition, he was taken by surprise by heavy fog and a snow storm in which six members of the expedition lost their lives.

At that time, boots were standard mountaineering equipment for the early stages of ascent. For the later ascent of the steepest rock faces, shoes were used but these did not provide protection from either damp or cold. Moreover, they didn’t have any grip if the ground was icy. Bramani began to think the problem over and concluded that his friends would have survived if they had been wearing non-slip shoes that could have provided protection from the cold. So, he designed a vulcanised sole, impermeable to water and wind, which was patented by Charles Goodyear. That was how Bramani created the first treads for shoes, improving traction and resistance to abrasion. The “armoured” sole was born, providing protection from the rain and mud. An idea as simple as it was useful which made the Albizzate firm famous throughout the world.

With the support of Pirelli, the Italian mountaineer opened his own sole business, which he called Vibram, based on the first letters of his name and surname. Today, Vibram Spa is a brand recognised all over the world. The company distributes more that 34 million soles a year, has 260 employees and generates a turnover of Euro 65 million. Vibram sells its soles for sports shoes in 120 countries. Exports are of critical importance to the company’s accounts: in fact 90% of turnover is produced abroad.

Vibram soles are an entirely Italian invention and for the most part are still made in Italy, but a large contribution in the future may come from China. In 2008 Vibram opened a 15 thousand square metre research centre in China, in which it will invest between 10 and 20 million Euro. Engineers, chemists and designers will work there: the idea is to turn the centre into the heart of a Chinese “rubber valley”. In fact, many of the businesses to which Vibram supplies soles have delocalised their production to China and the new centre will provide greater synergy between research and production.

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