Our Brands : Vibram

Our Brands : Vibram

In 2018, in the picturesque nature-loving home of trail running, Chamonix, I was introduced to a brilliant concept. 

If you have ever trained for an ultra marathon, you would learn that given your mileage, you would need a pair of shoes every 3-4 months or less. So, in stark contrast to our humble nature loving person. We have a major impact on the very nature we so love. 

Not only are shoes requiring rubber, which comes from a tree. But “The manufacturing process releases large amounts of carbon dioxide. It is responsible for 1.4% of GHG emissions in the world. Your pair of runners generates 30 pounds of CO2 emissions, keeping a 100-watt light bulb on for a week. Plus, shoes are made of synthetic materials that take years to biodegrade.” 

So, you, the special trail running lover with 20 or more and growing pairs of shoes, you have a footprint, and it’s growing fast.

Before me stood a truck, replacing shoe soles on running shoes, and not just any soles. Vibram soles. In outdoor sports you would quickly learn about Vibram soles. Top shoe makers proudly boast about the Vibram outer sole on their shoes. It has somewhat of a monopoly in the industry. So here in front of me stood a truck, making the best shoes… better. And better in every possible way, lighter, more functional and removing “30 pounds of CO2 emissions” with every fitment. Not least cutting your shoe budget in half.

I obviously chased down this product and soon came to meet the eccentric and charming but oh so passionate italians working behind these scenes. We got our hands on a few of the soles and started testing immediately. 

The biggest issue with it, as you can imagine, is fitting the soles. If even a little of the sole comes loose, the sand and water it is exposed to, will eat away at the glue and remove the sole rather cleanly from the shoe. 

So either we had to purchase some very expensive machinery or invest some serious time into R&D. Of Course R&D loosely translated into “run more in the mountains”, so it was a win-win.

At times, I could see the baffled expressions of passers-by, when they saw my Adidas Adios (a light and fast road running shoe), sitting atop one of the highest and rigorous peaks in the Western Cape. At other times I heard of the plight of the runner who was spending upwards of R2000 every three months on new shoes. Some complaints of poor grip and soles weathering away fast. Of Course the technical terrain of the Cape Town mountains played a key role in all of this. But it also gave me the advantage of proper and thorough testing.

To start the process I needed experience in shoemaking but not only experience, passion. I needed a shoe guy that compared to the Italian shoemaker. Here I formed a partnership with the most well known shoe repair shop in the Cape, Rocksole. The Vibram team in Italy, Raj  and I then continued to build and break shoes at a rapid rate. Two years later we were ready. We had defined the method to stick the most sought after rubber to running shoes. We had made technical choices about the suitable options for the South African terrain and identified a process which would invite people to save money and at the same time reduce their impact on the environment.

It is unfortunate that we need to motivate, invite and inform people of these benefits, but it is often that we find the biggest problem or the easiest solutions right under our feet!

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