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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

28 October 2011

How VIVOBAREFOOT hit the ground running

Contributor Zaena Miller

VivoBarefoot AW11

VIVOBAREFOOT's Global Marketing Director discusses the brand's highly successful, unconventional marketing strategy and plans for the future.


VIVOBAREFOOT is one of the original barefoot shoe pioneers, who have spearheaded a revolution in footwear that is better for not only your feet, but also – in the case of VIVO – the environment. A market leader with equal measures of commercial nous and sustainable knowhow, the brand’s sales performance, global marketing and innovative promotional strategies are admired in the sector. SOURCE Intelligence’s Zaena Miller speaks to VIVOBAREFOOT and learns how competition can actually be beneficial and that design never ceases to be pivotal, even in the most functional of products. VIVOBAREFOOT is a footwear brand owned by Terra Plana, part of the Clarks shoe family. Known for being the pioneers of barefoot technology, their patented ultra thin sole has been described as being “as close to going barefoot in the city as you can get.”

As with all Terra Plana products, VIVOBAREFOOT footwear is produced sustainably using recycled, locally sourced materials, with efficient and eco-friendly production techniques, in independently monitored, ethical factories. Since 2004, VIVOBAREFOOT has gone from strength to strength with sales soaring year on year.

The company is now run separately from Terra Plana and accounts for the majority of group sales. SOURCE Intelligence speaks to the Global Marketing Director for the brand, Patty Khan, to discuss their innovative marketing strategy and prospects for the near and longer term future.

SOURCE Intelligence: How has the VIVOBAREFOOT brand been performing of late?

Patty Khan: At the moment global turnover is £20 million and sales have doubled over the last 18 months.

What are your main geographical markets for the brand and where do you plan to expand?

A sense of community is particularly important to VIVOBAREFOOT as consumers who are part of the barefoot running movement are particularly interactive. The advantage for us is that the community was already there, we just had to tap into it

The barefoot movement started in the US and this is still our main market, alongside the UK and Germany. The shoes are currently sold in 22 countries across all continents and the brand is always securing with new distributors in new countries and regions. One of the most exciting of these is South Africa where we are next looking to expand.

The technology rocketed between 2009 and 2010 when two publications in particular explored the benefits of barefoot running, including a study undertaken by Harvard University and a book written by bestselling author Chris McDougall, Born to Run. This tied in nicely with the release of Evo, VIVO’s first barefoot performance shoe.

Neither of these publications were brand specific but certainly helped to publicise the barefoot running movement on an international scale. Three months before the shoe was even launched, we had a waiting list of 3000 people.

How important do you think your online community has been to your brand?

A sense of community is particularly important to VIVOBAREFOOT as consumers who are part of the barefoot running movement are particularly interactive. The advantage for us is that the community was already there, we just had to tap into it.

How have endorsements from running coach Lee Saxby and scientist Dr Lieberman helped the brand?

The goal of working with Lee Saxby was to create an educational platform for consumers. He is known as the barefoot expert in the US and his input is very important, as is the expertise of Dr Lieberman.

Barefoot running uses a different technique to running with padded shoes so consumers need to be trained to adapt to this style in order to avoid injury. It is difficult to say whether this kind of endorsement has directly boosted sales but it has certainly been influential.

VIVOBAREFOOT run a training clinic to help consumers manage the skill of barefoot running – what was the reason behind setting this up?

The main reason behind the clinic was injury prevention. Initially Lee Saxby did a training course with a select group of journalists who were invited to do the course with him and he taught them how to run with barefoot shoes in New York, resulting in significant press coverage. Lee was also used at trade shows and events. VIVOBAREFOOT put training videos and an eBook on their website but there was strong demand for more training by Lee.

This led to us setting up a 5 day course where leading running coaches could train to become official VIVOBAREFOOT Coaches that allowed them to train others. The first course was in May 2011 in New York, followed by one in London in June 2011. We also plan to introduce one in Australia in the near future. To add to this, for the lifestyle range we did a walking tour with the owner Galahad Clark around London and New York in early 2010 with Galahad giving information about the benefits of barefoot walking.

Which brands do you consider to be VIVOBAREFOOT’s main competitors? Are you aware of the Crocs ‘uberlight’ trainer collection and do you consider this as a threat since they also use advanced technology and are supported by scientific evidence?

Many brands are now starting to do this, for example Nike have launched lines such as Nike Free. It’s such a specialist fast growing sector that large brands, such as Nike and Crocs cannot ignore the demand. It is understandable why brands such are doing a lot to push their barefoot ranges, however VIVO has had a patent since 2004 so there are no direct competitors.

Any brand of minimalist performance raises the profile of the movement and therefore this is actually beneficial to us.

How important is design on a product that has such a strong focus on a specific function and technology?

Unlike some other barefoot brands you can’t tell from the look of the shoe that VIVOBAREFOOT is a barefoot shoe. Design is one of our key features and is of equal importance to the technology behind the shoe.

Have there been or are you planning any new product ranges – and what is your bestselling product?

We recently launched an ultralight shoe which sold out almost straight away. For Spring/Summer 12 we’re planning a design led women’s performance range which also bridges our lifestyle range.

Evo is the best performing shoe so far as it has been around the longest, but we are interested to see how this changes over the next year with so many new ranges set to launch.

Check out the VIVOBAREFOOT community at www.vivobarefoot.com/uk/community and this CNN Health piece for more about the barefoot running movement and the 2010 Harvard study.

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