Humor us for a moment. If you flip over your shoes, what brand is the rubber?
This Monday, I sifted through my shoes to find a pair needing new soles. The Vibram Sole Factor crew was coming by that day as part of their second full year of touring the U.S., in partnership with local cobblers and to promote resoling in place of chucking shoes in the trash.
"A lot of people throw their shoes away not thinking they could get them resoled," said Tyler Allan, Sole Factor's lead.
I picked out my oldest pair of hiking boots—Hi-Tec Sierras from the early 2000s—with worn down, dusty lugs. And what do you know? They already had Vibram outsoles.
There’s a good chance your outsole was made by Vibram, too. The Italian cobbling company was founded in the 1930s and makes the rubber outsoles for more than 30 outdoor brands, including La Sportiva, Merrell, The North Face, L.L.Bean, and Vasque.
How do you pronounce Vibram? We collected your answers and now we're sharing the truth.
According to Tyler Allan, Sole Factor's lead, Marco Bramani, the grandson of Vibram’s founder, doesn’t care how you pronounce the name. What he cares most about is that people recognize the yellow octagon when they flip over their shoes to reveal the soles.
For two days, the Vibram crew parked their 40-foot RV—complete with a showroom and mini resoling factory—at the SNEWS office in Boulder, Colorado. I dropped off my boots with the cobblers, who helped me choose the Predator style sole, with a Megagrip compound and grippy gum rubber component on the heel and front under toe.
Other employees at Active Interest Media—SNEWS’ parent company—had Vibram breathe new life into their Chacos, running shoes, work boots, and other kicks. There’s a whole array of sole options, from big knobs to thin grip, from camouflage to neon pink to black.
The starting cost per pair is $75, so why not buy new? If you care about waste, you should already know the answer. All you have to do is choose a sole from the online catalog, fill out a form for the cobblers located in Queens, New York, and San Diego, California, mail in your shoes, and wait a few weeks for Vibram to ship them back with fresh new treads.
The Vibram Sole Factor has a whole calendar of stops, where you can get your shoes resoled. Here’s where they’re going this summer:
· July 14-16: Killington, Vermont
· July 21-22: Baltimore, Maryland
· July 29-Aug. 1: Las Vegas, Nevada
· Aug. 4-5: Sparks, Nevada
· Aug. 8-10: Woodward, Pennsylvania
· Aug. 17-19: Cascade Locks, Oregon
· Aug. 18: Brewster, Massachussetts
· Aug. 18-19: Overland Park, Kansas
If the cobblers determine that your shoes need stitching work or other detailing—not all of their machines fit into the RV—Vibram will refer you to a local cobbler deemed a "Vibram Diamond Shop." Not only is Vibram promoting their own brand and line of shoes, they’re trying to drive business to these partner shops around the U.S. Had my boots needed extra work, they would have referred me to Cobbler’s Corner in Denver, Colorado. Allan said there are about 7,000 cobblers in the U.S. and about 5,000 of them sell Vibram soles.
When Vibram handed mine back Tuesday afternoon, they reeked of that rubbery new shoe smell. Other than the wear and tear on the uppers from years of hiking, my boots are good as new and ready to be worn for many more miles.