As part of the my OGN series (Operation Good News), I’d like to profile a long time client and brand that many of you are familiar with, Vibram. Vibram makes the soles for top footwear brands and also designs and develops their own products like Vibram FiveFingers and Vibram Furoshiki. I began working with what was then called Vibram USA, back in 2007. At the time, Vibram was a mostly Italian company with a small presence in the US. There were two pieces of the business on the US side, Soles and Components, who helped other footwear companies design and use Vibram Soles, and a small upstart called Vibram FiveFingers.
FiveFingers was a design concept developed in Italy that Vibram thought other shoe companies would be interested in. When no other brands took interest, Vibram decided to take the product direct to market. This development coincided with a movement of minimalist and barefoot running, which was propelled forward by the popularity of the book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall in 2010.
There were only 6 people in the Vibram Concord office and they didn’t require much assistance given their small size. Also, the FiveFinger shoes seemed strange and hard to wrap my head around. So at the time I didn’t give them much consideration. Over time, however, Vibram has become one of the most gratifying and interesting experiences of my professional life.
Between 2007 and 2011, Vibram USA grew from a business with just a few US sales to revenues in the tens of millions. In that time, Vibram went from a mostly Italian company to a truly Global business.
In 2015, when Vibram acquired Quabaug Corporation in North Brookfield, MA, a business that’s been manufacturing rubber products in the US since 1916, it quickly and dramatically changed the size and operations of Vibram’s Global business. It also created one of the most dramatic and exciting cultural mashups I have ever been a part of.
One might wonder, what does an IT consultant know or care about culture? Although I started my career as an Electrical Engineer, I ended with an undergraduate degree in Cultural Anthropology and Studio Arts. And of particular interest was Italian culture, inspired by one of my all time favorite books, an ethnography called The Broken Fountain, about the urban poor in Naples.
At Vibram, the cultural mashup included the corporate Italian culture, driven by the design and innovative heritage of the Bramani family in Northern Italy; and the young and more urban and entrepreneurial startup culture of Vibram USA and FiveFingers. And lastly the established and more conservative culture of a rural US manufacturing icon, in North Brookfield MA.
I believe the resulting company has emerged stronger and more dynamic, due in part to the resulting diversity of ideas and experiences. This was most recently demonstrated to me by the way Vibram has managed through the COVID-19 pandemic.
I have been impressed by their leadership and their commitment to their business and their people. They have successfully managed staff and business operations in three major virus hotspots including Northern Italy, Boston and Guangzhou, China. Just this month they reopened their manufacturing facility in Albizzate, Italy.
Stories of responsible businesses should be celebrated in these times of challenge. There are too many negative stories of big businesses stealing recovery funds, pushing for the bottom line and sacrificing the safety of their front line workers. Vibram can stand proud of its record and I’m proud to have contributed in some small way to their success over the last 13 years. Vibram has certainly demonstrated it has a lot more soul than the soles it produces.
Information about Vibram and their products can be found on their website and their myriad of social media channels, which I’ve listed below. Looking for their iconic Vibram logo on your next pair of shoes is the best way to support them. If you’re a member of the US military or have family who are, you’re already walking around on Vibram soles manufactured right here in North Brookfield, MA.