How Vibram’s President Is Using Sustainability to Shape the Company’s Future

For more than 100 years, Vibram has worked to become a forerunner in footwear innovation, and its outsoles remain a staple in the outdoor industry.

Although established as a marketplace leader, the company is not resting on its laurels. Fabrizio Gamberini, who took over as global chief brand officer and president in October 2018, is reshaping the company’s future, which includes entries into new product categories and bolstered sustainability efforts.

Here, Gamberini discusses the outdoor industry’s complicated relationship with sustainability, expansion and how the firm will continue to innovate.

Footwear News: After a year at the helm, where is the brand positioned now?

Fabrizio Gamberini: “The brand is hotter than ever. You go to events or trade shows and you see Vibram all over the place. Many partners are adopting us for authenticity — especially in the outdoor area. People perceive Vibram as bringing innovation, quality and comfort into footwear. We have brands we’ve been working with for a long time like Merrell, and we have new relationships with large brands. We’re going to announce a partnership with Under Armour, and we’re working on a small project with Columbia. [Both are] new brands for us in footwear production.”

What are your 2020 goals?

FG: “We want to attack new segments. We’re going to [launch] midsoles from Vibram, where we will present a different midsole solution for brands already working with us and for new ones. Another goal is to go after the running segment. In outdoor, we’re already by far the leader, but we have never been in running. We’re going to start to co-develop solutions for running and also athleisure or sportswear, because those are the segments with the highest growth and the biggest potential for us in terms of market size and what the consumer is looking for.”

How would you assess the outdoor industry’s attention to sustainable design?

FG: “Sustainability, for everybody, is one of the top three strategic elements for the next three to five years. Within that time, we’re going to find [the industry aligned] on the most important pieces [in sustainability]. Those are waste, the consumption of water and sustainable energy. It’s also product that will break down in 20 years; it will step-by-step dissolve.”

What is the biggest issue concerning sustainability?

FG: “There are chemicals still being used that are not in a sustainable format usable for the future. Overall, the approach is in the early stages. There are some making more noise but all of us, including ourselves, have quite a bit of path in front of us to become sustainable. We all have different ideas and are approaching it from different angles.”

Sustainability is the backbone of the outdoor industry. How effective is the market at promoting eco-friendly efforts?

FG: “Most companies are still not talking about sustainability as they could or as they should. Learning how and what to communicate and standardizing the format of communication is important. There are lots of different certifications. There are many different ways to talk about sustainability, but there’s not a standard format that looks after things like water or petroleum or energy. The quicker we can get to a standardized language the better it will be for everybody.”

Vibram is ready to unveil its N-Oil compound. What is it and how will it be used?

FG: “N-Oil is a new rubber compound constructed with 90% petroleum-free ingredients, [but] it still maintains the Vibram standards of quality of grip and performance. It’s a solution we’re offering to the players who want to apply sustainable outsoles to their brand. When the Hokas or the Uggs or The North Faces want to come up with a solution that is sustainable, we can provide a compound that’s good in terms of performance.”

With brands investing in their own technologies, how is Vibram working to make sure it holds its position?

FG: “Our mission is to be the wow of innovation. We want to make sure we provide confidence with the outsole we produce. We have a big investment in research and development of new compounds. And it’s not only coming up with the compound. We also help brands design their outsole in the right format to maximize the potential of the compound we provide.”

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