Saturday, May 06, 2006

FiveFingers™: The foot glove and shape of things to come?

The inspiration for FiveFingers™ footwear was after seeing the benefits of rubber soling on mountaineering boots. Better tread on wet surfaces has long been a problem for water sport enthusiasts. Robert Fliri, a young designer from Naturns proposed the idea of combining foot shaped uppers with rubber soles to Marco Bramani, a keen yachtsman and grandson of Vitale Bramani inventer of the first rubber soles used on mountaineering boots (1936) and founder of the renowned rubber sole manufacturer Vibram . Together they developed a prototype which gave protection to sailor’s feet while ensuring a surefooted grip on deck. Early trials revealed sailors wearing the prototype foot shaped shoes reported more confidence in moving across wet surfaces had better balance and control and were more agile. Bramani and Fliri worked to refine FiveFingers™ and have come up with a novel foot shaped shoe with the protection and security of a Vibram sole which gives a gecko-like grip on slippery surfaces. Traditionally cellular rubbers were used because porous rubber contains cells which fill up with water when compressed against wet surfaces temporary removal of water by sucking it into their cells. This leaves the deck dry and prevent slips and improves traction. Unfortunately cellular rubber in not durable so TC4 was chosen but Vibram were interested in further improvements. They used sipes or tiny zigzag cuts (1.5mm in depth) into the surface of the soling material to increase surface contact. Now when the shoe is in flat contact with the ground, it behaves just as it would without the tiny cuts. But when the sole flexes during locomotion the sipes slide apart. This increases surface contact as well as drawing the surface fluid into the cavities. FiveFingers™ are also recommended for climbing and the soles give protection from sharp rocks. The shoes are slip-on and have a stretchy nylon upper (cordura ) which dries quickly and feels like suede to touch. The shoes fit the feet like gloves with individual spaces for each toe and come in a variety of very bright colours. Although not an official testimony your reporter was interested to read Barefoot Ted’s
on FiveFingers™ after he completed the Boston 50 mile Ultramarathon.

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