Oi Polloi

The Sole Man : Vitale Bramani

Published: Wed Jun 22 2011

Vibram soles are nothing new, and we’ve found some great old adverts to prove it. Set up by a Turin mountaineer called Vitale Bramani, the brand is credited with popularising the use of rubber-soled footwear.

Like many of our greatest inventions, rubber soles were invented out of necessity. Bramani was a guide and member of the Italian Alpine Club. He led an ill-fated expedition into the Alps in 1935, during which his group climbed Mount Rasica but were caught in a terrible snow storm and heavy fog. Their basic climbing equipment was no match for the elements and six of Bramani’s group succumbed to frostbite and exposure.

Inspired by their untimely deaths, Bramani set about creating a far more robust type of footwear that was both rigid and flexible, and safe too. He eventually arrived at vulcanised rubber, a material developed by Charles Goodyear in 1839 and patented by the same man five years later. It provided a more waterproof, weather resistant sole in comparison to the hobnail boots and felt shoes that preceded it. In addition to providing comfort and protection, the shoes offered added grip due to Bramani creating a unique tread pattern in the rubber.

Backed by the Pirelli Tyre Company, Vitale Bramani set up Vibram in 1937. His designs were patented in the 1950s under the Vibram banner and when Italian climbers conquered K2 in 1954 they were sporting an array of Vibram soled footwear.

Like many of the 20th century’s biggest brands, it was endorsement that propelled Vibram to wider success. Jim Whittaker became the first North American to scale Everest in 1975 and at the summit he wore Vibram soled boots. With so many Americans taking to the outdoors during the 60s and 70s, popularity of Vibram went through the roof.

Still based in Albizzate, Italy, Vibram remains under the stewardship of the Bramani family. It distributes more than 34 million soles a year over a range of footwear. Most pertinent to us though are the ones we’ve chosen from our own range below, some of which are available with a bit of cheeky discount in our sale. Brands like Fracap, Thorogood, Red Wing and Diemme all go for Vitale’s Vibram creation and are all the better for it.