A vulcanized-rubber sole that revolutionized footwear. In 1935, Italian designer Vitale Bramani witnessed a mountaineering accident that left six close friends dead after they slipped on ice. Like all climbers of the day, they were wearing hobnail boots, which achieved traction and durability through a pattern of short nails pounded into the boot sole. Climbing in hobnail boots was good for some conditions, terrifying and painful for others.
Bramani spent two years developing a rubberized lugged sole that could hold crampons. His Vibrams eventually eclipsed hobnail boots in mountaineering, and the soles are now ubiquitous in all kinds of footwear.
In 2006, the arrival of minimalist running prompted mass interest in the company’s FiveFinger water shoes. Five years later, however, Vibram paid $3.8 million to settle a lawsuit claiming that the company exaggerated the shoes’ health benefits.