[leadin]The company that brought the world ‘shoes with toes’ in its FiveFingers line has introduced footwear modeled after traditional Japanese wrapping cloth.[/leadin]
That lead sentence above makes almost zero sense, I know. At first glance, neither do these shoes.
Advertised as “outsoles that wrap around your foot,” the Vibram Furoshiki shoes are essentially rubber soles adorned with a swath of stretchy fabric. We got a first look at the wild new footwear this week.
To wear, a person “folds” the Furoshikis on, using Velcro as the securing mechanism in lieu of laces. Each fabric end catches a tab once wrapped and folded fully onto the heel.
Toes move freely inside of what feel like socks with a thin tread. Rubber phalanges snake up each side.
Furoshiki Field Test
I tested them out this week. You put a Furoshiki on the floor and step on top. Now, grab the fabric and wrap your foot.
Walk around and the Furoshikis feel like house slippers you’d put on at night. They weigh almost nothing, and they roll up small; you could store them in a pocket, folded and ready to deploy.
Had this shoe come out a few years back “barefoot” runners, the same ones who ate up the FiveFingers line, might have bought the Furoshikis in droves — the foot can move free, and “ground feel” is off the charts.
The tread molds to every bump or crack on the ground, and the fabric stretches in what’s sold as an upper that can fit any foot, from tiny to big.
The concept for this shoe was presented in 2011 after Vibram President Marco Bramani asked his design team if it was possible to make a “one-size sole.”
The challenge was to create a “dynamic structure sole” instead of a normal static sole, explained Masaya Hashimoto, a Vibram designer who invented the Furoshiki.
After years of work and testing, the initial Furoshiki line comes out in the U.S. this week, including five colors and six sizes. Each size encompasses several traditional shoe sizes, from about 7 to 13 in U.S. men’s measurements.
The first model, reviewed here, is called the Furoshiki Original, and Hashimoto hints it is only the start for the concept. “We believe the wrapping sole concept has a big potentiality, so we will develop it in different product lines in different fields.”
Furoshiki On The Foot
The early Furoshiki sample I received was a size L and my feet, at size 12.5, were a tight squeeze, causing a bulge to appear between two phalanges where my big toe pressed out. As noted, Vibram now offers the shoes in XS – XXL, not traditional sizing, and the XXL would fit my foot just fine.
I walked around one day, comfortable enough in the hardly-there shoes despite a tight fit, though also somewhat perplexed at the best place to wear them in the outdoors.
The company markets them for travel as well as casual water sports. Another use, backpackers could bring them on a trip as lightweight footwear to pull on in a camp after boots are removed at the end of a day.
I think the best application for the current Furoshiki incarnation is simply as an everyday shoe. They are essentially stand-ins for sandals, with the same kind of minimal support and breezy feel, though with a more flexible, grippy sole.
In a video on its international site Vibram revealed multiple forms of Furoshiki footwear, from athletic builds to dressy shoes. One model was a high women’s boot that wrapped feet and calves in a seamless, fashion-conscious look.
Origins Of Design
Furoshiki is the Japanese art of “packaging items by wrapping them in fabric.” Think of a fun, fancy way to wrap a gift.
Now apply that to shoes. Add a $110 price tag, and you have what is one of the more stand-out ideas in footwear this year.
The Furoshiki line is available at zappos.com and on Vibram’s site. Wrap one on for a test walk if you can, these Vibrams are a hoot and an interesting direction in the coursing evolution of new things to put on your foot.