In 1937, after his friends died in a tragic mountaineering accident partly caused by poor footwear, Vitale Bramani started Vibram to create more functional outsoles. Vibram has striven since that time to develop new products for people on their feet. In 2005, the Italian company introduced its first finished product line, FiveFingers, showing how a component manufacturer can itself become a brand.
Welcome to the twenty-second edition of B.
Young people often tell me that they want to become entrepreneurs or creative directors who freely set out on businesses and projects in diverse fields. I guess this is the impression they have of what JOH. does, but I have never thought of JOH. as a company that takes up multiple areas of business just because it has the ability.
During a recent flight, I came across an article in a newspaper that said, “Successful companies focus on one thing they do best.” This is true for many of the brands featured in B. However, it is important to approach the concept of the “one thing” with a new perspective. A camping brand might make camping products only, but their product range would be much wider than that of a company making tent fabric or lanterns only. The same can be said when you compare an automotive company that has focused exclusively on car manufacturing for decades to a company that only makes brakes. Muji, a Japanese lifestyle brand, started out by selling household items and clothes, and then extended to opening restaurants and flower shops. They even build and sell homes. While their range of business area is tremendously wide, few people would say their expansion was far-fetched. Such a good case of business expansion was possibly achieved because they all share a common “brand philosophy.”
Brand can be likened to “a way of thinking.” When brands of different territories have the same way of thinking, the clear distinction we have been making between them becomes insignificant. In this context, the idea of focusing on the “one thing” would mean an expansion in pursuit of not only profit but also the brand’s singular philosophy.
I recently watched a 70-minute interview of Steve Jobs. In the interview, he said of the people who worked at Apple, “If it hadn’t been computer science, these people would have been doing amazing things in other fields.” He was saying that at that time, software was just the best medium for them to express their originality. Perhaps this was possible because they shared “a distinctive way of thinking,” which Jobs defined as “taste.” As the result, Apple launched iPhone and changed the general idea that cell phone and computer are two different things. Now their integration is regarded as a natural concept.
The brand featured in this issue, Vibram, has become a world-class company that makes only outsoles, the rubber piece consisting the bottom of shoes. Whether a shoe is made by a high-end brand or a street brand, there is something special about a shoe with a Vibram outsole. Most famous shoe brands prefer Vibram’s outsoles because of their excellent qualities such as tight gripping on slippery surfaces and enduring harsh outdoor environment. Companies buy Vibram for
the same reason that drivers buy good tires for their cars—reliability. This is not different from world-class automobile makers working with world-class tire manufacturers and outstanding brake companies.
The fact that Vibram only makes outsoles does not mean that the company’s vision is narrow. In fact, it studies shoes from all around the world to make more functional soles for all kinds of shoes and to expand its vision as wide as possible. As a brand grows deeper and more concentrated toward a consistent way of thinking, the quality and value of its products will expand infinitely.
The founder of Vibram realized the need for high performance shoes and soles after a painful experience of losing his friends during an Alpine expedition. Seventy years have passed, and we look into the foundation of the brand as we climb steep mountains.
The Vibram headquarters is still located in the northern Italian city of Albizzate, Varese, where the first Vibram factory was built in 1945. B visited the headquarters to observe the entire production process firsthand, from material development to manufacturing, and take a look at Vibram’s most famous soles by category.
Vibram soles contribute greatly to the function and style of a shoe. This section introduces the outdoor and casual shoe brands that use Vibram soles.
62 Brand to Brand
We asked Vibram users to show us their shoes and talk about their idea of functional footwear.
FiveFingers is Vibram’s first finished product brand. Also known as “barefoot shoes,” FiveFingers is set apart from other sports shoes by how they are chosen and worn.
76 Minimalist Shoes
Barefoot shoes minimalize the cushion and bridge to give users an experience similar to walking barefoot. This is the minimalist shoe concept that has been adopted by many running shoe brands.
81 B’s Cut
A shoe’s sole is a record of the ground it has crossed.
96 Brand Story
Vibram earned the trust of its customers by focusing on one item for 70 years, but that does not mean it was afraid of change. This section takes a look at Vibram’s past and present and examines how the company has grown.
Every day, we walk from one place to another. The value of Vibram is felt at every walking moment.
- Suyong Joh
- Editor In Chief
- Taehyuk Choi
- Senior Editor
- Eunsung Park
- Heeyoung Yoo
- English Language Editor
- Heejean Kim
- Styling Editor
- Insung Yoo
- Guest Editors
- Bora Nam, Hyun Son
- Hyeyoung Lee, Nari Park(U.K), Eaji Lee(JAPAN), Sungjoo Kim(GERMANY)
- JOH & Company
- Ayoon Jung
- Hyekyung Shin
- Minhyung Kim, Minhwa Maeng, Sanghee Woo, Junghoon Woo
- Film Designer
- Onedoe Jung
- Gieun Lee, Hyunkyung Yoo, Jeanhee Ha, Rancy Kim, Soonok Hwang
- Text Correction
- Eugene Larsen-Hallok, Heeyoung Yoo, Joyce Paek
- Taewook You
- Hyungjin Choi
- JOH & Company
- Top Process
- Printed in the Republic of Korea
- 978-89-98415-38-9 03050
- Documentary Film The Extraordinary Story
- Killing Giants
- Invisible on Everest: Innovation and the Gear Makers
- Born to Run
- Barefoot Running Step by Step
- The Barefoot Running Book: The Art and Science of Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Running