It was Morton’s neuroma, an excruciating nerve condition, that had stopped Susan-Marie Stedman of Burtonsville in her tracks. The 52-year-old marine biologist couldn’t manage to hike without hurting, no matter what shoes she’d tried. Until she bought Vibram FiveFingers a year ago.
Now Stedman can’t imagine wearing anything other than her “freaky feet,” her pet name for the odd-looking (some might even say ugly) shoes. She owns three pairs, which she wears when she’s stretching, on the elliptical and even hang-gliding. “Once you’ve made the commitment to this type of footwear, you can’t go back,” she says. “Disco dancing and bike riding are the two things I won’t do in them now.”
It is customers like Brodsky and Stedman who’ve made the footwear industry realize there’s a market beyond runners for nontraditional shoes. The speedsters are the ones who flipped for FiveFingers ($85 to $110) after reading Christopher McDougall’s anti-shoe bible “Born to Run” in 2009, so companies quickly tried to cater to their needs, says Doug Smiley, the footwear buyer for City Sports. “Now it’s evolving from running into other kinds of fitness,” he says.
For the past few years, minimalism has been the fastest-growing category in running. This year, Smiley says, it’s become the fastest-growing category in training, too. There is a particular interest in wooing serious gymgoers who are drawn to the idea of working out every muscle in their body, including the ones in their feet. Vibram FiveFingers, which launched in 2006 (not specifically as a running shoe), has always advocated for its products being used for a variety of activities, but it was only this year that the company released the KomodoSport, engineered to appeal to athletes who want to perform multi-directional movements.
Those same folks may also be intrigued by New Balance’s Minimus MX20, a cross-trainer that hit shelves July 1 with a number of features that make minimal shoe lovers drool — an anatomical shape, a wide toe box that lets you really splay and a teensy 4mm drop from heel to toe to keeps you feeling stable on the ground. The upper part of the shoe differs from a lot of the running shoes on the market, however, because it still offers support, which is more comfortable when you’re stopping, starting and changing direction, explains product manager Kevin Fitzpatrick. There’s another reason it has a leg up on the running shoes in the Minimus line, he adds. “When it comes to running, people can be hesitant about going minimal right away,” he says. “People have less hesitation in the gym.”