At first, the barefoot running movement seemed to threaten shoe companies. If runners believed cushions could induce injuries—by throwing off our feet's natural balance—how can that be monetized? The answer: cleverly. Vibram did it in 2005 with its toe-hugging FiveFingers shoes; others followed. The latest from industry heavyweights and smart upstarts take many forms.
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Designer Olivier Taco modeled the Iguaneye slip-on shoe after Amazonian jungle-dwellers, who created the first rubber shoes by dipping their feet in latex from the Hevea tree. The single-piece shoe (no seams, no glue) shields the foot, and a cork insole sits atop ventilation channels. ($67, iguaneye.com)
Japanese tabi shoes have long given outdoor workers agility by separating the big toe from the foot. Topo Athletic—a new brand by Tony Post, former CEO of Vibram U.S.A.—has adapted this trick for runners. "The shoe feels more connected to your body, and ultimately more secure," Post says. ($100, topoathletic.com)
These paper-light runners weigh in at a sprightly 3.9 ounces, compared to the 12 ounces of a standard shoe. New Balance ditched the single block of foam that usually make up the sole, instead crafting one from 42 independent rubber pods that flex in closer union with the foot. ($120, newbalance.com)
Yoga and Pilates are strictly practiced without shoes. But Nike argues that our bare feet lack proper traction, not to mention support. It created a modular shoe that morphs from a washable neoprene wrap into a shoe for trekking home from the studio. ($110, nike.com)
[Photo by Kent Larsson]
A version of this article appeared in the April 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.