Italian industrial designer Robert Fliri, an earthy guy who loves the mountains and hates chunky boots, had an idea for a thin-soled shoe with individual toes. In trying to use his body in a more natural way, he hiked and climbed barefoot, but he would break his toenails and inflict all sorts of damage, which is why he created what would eventually become Five Fingers. (Fliri’s first models were five-toe fashion shoes. He also envisioned creating an individual toe shoe for water use.)
When Vibram USA was given the right to market and distribute the product in July of 2005, it shifted Five Fingers to a performance product category focused on fitness and running enthusiasts. Vibram USA’s Tony Post saw the benefits of barefoot running and individual toes when he started training in Five Fingers after knee surgery, and soon found he couldn’t run in anything else.
The shoe launched at the 2006 Boston Marathon on the feet of Born To Run’s Ted McDonald and, within a few weeks, the Wall Street Journal was writing about the new phenomenon. Vibram USA did 90 percent of its sales direct to consumers at first. In 2007, TIME magazine named Vibram Five Fingers one of the best health inventions of the year because barefoot running has been shown to give athletes stronger and healthier feet and legs that are less prone to injury.