Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How Far Will You Go for a Set of Vibrams

The popularity of the VFF has gotten out of hand I think.

You go around the handful of local stores in the SF Bay Area, find out that many models and sizes have completely sold out. The salespeople who don't wear them state (in incredulous tones) that they can't keep them on the shelves.

The episode that hit home just how low the supply has gotten, and how badly people want these shoes, happened this past weekend. I sent to one of the three stores in the City of San Francisco that carry the VFF to get a replacement for my KSO's (the ones I've trashed and stunk up for the past 9 months). Across from me sat a woman with one hand talking on her cell phone, and one hand slipping on various pairs of shoes.

I had assumed wrongly that she was just trying on various women's casual shoes. But then she overhead my discussion with the saleslady regarding sizes & models of VFF (Classic vs. Sprint, vs. KSO, Size 41 vs. 43 vs. 44), and asked me about what size VFF her friend should wear. She revealed that she was talking over the phone with a friend in England, a male, about what size VFF he should wear. I looked at her feet, she had several models of VFF lying around her.

When the saleslady went to take care of another matter, I spoke with her in more detail with the young lady inquiring about the Vibrams. Turned out that her friend in England;

- Asked her to buy them on his behalf;
- Had a recent running injury to his calves;
- Couldn't decide between the size 41, 42, 43, or 44, because of the incompatibility of the sizing systems.

To place this all in perspective, this is like having your wife/girlfriend asking a friend in Italy to buy a pair of Manolo Blahniks/Jimmy Choos, forking out the $400-500 up front without even trying them on or seeing them in person. Never happen, right? Your wife/girlfriend would more likely just get on an airplane and turn the shoe shopping expedition into a trip to Italy. Because your shoe fetishizing wife/girlfriend understands that she need to see it up close and put it on her feet before coughing out the dough -- or otherwise suffer an awful case of buyers regret.

As much as I like the VFF's (I purchased my replacement pair online directly from Vibram USA) there is no getting around the fact that the VFF is no longer an athletic shoe but a cultural fad. People are shoving their usual logic and judgement regarding shoes aside, and forking out $$ to purchase the VFF for reasons that have nothing to do with athletics & ergonomics, but everything to do with wanting to be part of an up and coming trend.

Adding to the stew is the presence of VFF knock-off's.

I predict over the next 12 months there will be a shakedown. Most of the people buying the VFF will get rid of them when they realize how hard the transition is from regular running shoes to the VFF. After the 12 months are over, however, we'll all figure out;

- The best ways to get used to the VFF, through thousands of people venting about sore calves and aching feet.

- The sports that you can use the VFF effectively (martial arts, running, calisthenics, yoga), and the sports you should not (cycling).

- Which one of the VFF clones is a viable alternative. There is no way Vibram can dominate this market indefinitely -- especially since the fundamental design of the VFF is so simple.

Lets see how this shakes out.

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