Featured case: Vibram FiveFingers

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The case

Vibram Who – the protagonists

The reader is immediately identified as the protagonist. The case begins: ‘You have been recently recruited by Vibram FiveFingers as manager in charge of monitoring the harmonious development of the brand.’


Vibram’s main activity has always been the production of soles for shoes used in sports such as mountaineering, water sports, and professions requiring a high level of performance and security such as the army, firefighters and the police.

The barefoot running shoe, Vibram FiveFingers, was developed and introduced in 2006. It was launched in opposition to the focus on high-cushioned, hi-tech shoes. Vibram FiveFingers had practically no cushioning, enabling what Vibram described as ‘a neutral interface between the foot and the ground.’


Vibram FiveFingers chimed with the growing popularity of barefoot running, particularly in the US where by 2012, 250,000 pairs were being sold each year – although sales then began to drop. Barefoot running enables feet and toes to move freely and find a natural grip on the ground.

The brand is determined to continue its strong growth despite recent events, including copying and counterfeiting, and a lawsuit against the company that questioned its values and integrity.


Vibram was founded in 1937 by Vitale Bramini, a mountain guide, following the tragic death of a group of mountaineering friends in the Italian Alps. With the financial backing of Pirelli, Bramini created the Vibram sole which offered better traction. The Vibram name is a combination of Vitale and Bramini.


Bramini set up Vibram in Milan, Italy. Its headquarters are now based in Albizzate, Italy, and the company manufactures and sells products across Europe, North America and Asia.

Key quote

‘Vibram innovated the technology and earned the patents … We will continue to take aggressive action against all who infringe our intellectual property.’ – Vibram FiveFingers statement

What next?

Vibram The participant as protagonist must:

  • understand the issues surrounding the running market – specifically, market development and relevant stakeholder strategies
  • identify the opportunities for the brand’s possible evolution
  • make sure the brand’s community keeps developing.
The author

Cathy Briest-Breda

Cathy explains why the case works well in the classroom and its main learning objectives.

Inspiration and information

This case works very well in the classroom because it leads students to a form of reflexivity. Throughout the case, they can find inspiration, information and events that inspire a gradual learning process: What is to be understood and learnt (applying a concept or a method)? How is it to be applied (their learning experience)? What is to be transformed (preconceptions, values that can be associated to the case, etc)? And are new concepts or new methods needed?

Barefoot communityVibram

Students go in for sports such as running, so they are very interested by the brand design experience and the running and barefoot community. They do like the complexity and the ‘living’ of a brand that has to face some challenges as well. They may be in tune with the aesthetic of the brand or it may challenge their way of seeing the world. And students do like to be challenged!

Key concepts

The case is developed to support the learning of key concepts and methods, encouraging co-creation and discussions in the classroom around topics such as brand identity and strategic spaces. It can be taught in a single session, or over several sessions.

VibramLearning objectives

The main learning objectives of this case are to understand the brand design experience, the reasoning of strategic spaces, the development of a brand communication and the implementation and animation of a brand community.

At another level, it’s important to understand that of all of these concepts are interrelated, and evolve in a complex manner. It is important to highlight this when teaching the case.

The learning objectives are also easily applied to other industries and market sectors.

About the author

Cathy Briest-Breda is an Assistant Professor in Marketing at INSEEC, France.
e cbreda@inseec.com

Interested in finding out more?

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Vibram Five Fingers
Ref 516-0065-1
Teaching note

Ref 516-0065-8


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