Four years after the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall kicked off a barefoot running bonanza, is the surge of interest in minimalist footwear finally coming to an end?
According to a new report by sports retail analysts SportsOneSource, sales of barefoot and minimalist shoes are on a major downswing.
“It appears this fad is pretty much over,” wrote analyst Matt Powell.
While overall running shoe sales jumped in the first part of this year, the bulkiest categories were partly responsible for the boost: Motion control shoes, which are practically the antithesis of minimalist sneakers, saw their sales increase by over 25 percent, said the report; sales of stability shoes increased by over 13 percent.
While there is an overall trend towards lighter footwear—lightweight shoes are still the biggest sellers—the only type of running shoe to decline in sales was the minimalist/barefoot category, which dropped in the “low teens,” the report says, to make up only 4 percent of the market.
Those gloomy numbers exclude the still-popular minimalist Nike Free, “most of which aren’t worn for running,” reports Runner’s World.
That’s a serious stubbed toe for Vibram FiveFingers, which came out of nowhere to capture 2 percent of market share in the early part of this decade, only for their sales to decline markedly last year.
“I don't know how many people are buying a second or third pair of FiveFingers,” industry expert Joe Rubio told Runner’s World. Rubio owns the online running store RunningWarehouse.com.
There are a number of reasons for the decline in interest in ultra-minimal footwear—big brands offering slightly more comfortable, slightly less minimal alternatives, for one—but one factor may simply be that many runners bought the shoes without making adjustments to their form, and then lost interest when the results weren’t immediate.
That would jibe with McDougall’s own observation in a recent interview:
“I think there are a lot of people examining what kind of footwear they run in,” he said, “but I’m not convinced there are a lot of people examining the way they run.”