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Running shoe industry searches its 'sole'

Vibram FiveFingers

Vibram FiveFingers Credit: RJ Mickelson/amNY

Two customers entered City Sports on Fifth Avenue this pre-marathon week and told Momoh Pujeh they needed running shoes.

Pujeh, a salesman, fetched a model that looked like a kind of reinforced foot glove: the Vibram FiveFingers.

“This is the future of shoes,” Pujeh told the two women. They politely asked to see the latest Nikes.

While their adoption has been gradual, the popularity of Vibram FiveFingers is a by-product of the emerging barefoot running movement inspired by Christopher McDougall’s 2009 book “Born to Run.” By offering only minimal sole protection, the FiveFingers are challenging running shoe industry giants to develop lightweight models that scale back years of added sneaker technology — what Pujeh called “excess stuff” that interferes with our healthy, innate running form.

“Vibram came out with the shoe, kind of cornered the market briefly for people who wanted to try this,” said Stuart Calderwood, senior editor at New York Road Runners. “Now the major brands are following suit by coming out with models that are ultralight and not maybe so funny-looking.”

Puma, which is rolling out its stripped-down Faas line of shoes this season, is among the brands whose product developers are listening.

“Everything we heard in the market was that the easiest-built shoes are the best shoes you can put out there,” said Phillipp Hahm, Puma’s senior running product manager.
 

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