Topo Twofingers: Topo Athletic Releases Photos of New Shoe Line

Topo Athletic burst onto the scene a few weeks ago with a slick teaser website and a proclamation that they would be producing shoes that offer “innate amplification.” The company is led by former Vibram America CEO Tony Post – Post obviously knows a thing or two about bringing unconventional shoe designs to the mainstream, so there was a lot of buzz about what exactly Topo had coming.

Well, today Topo released images of their new shoes, and the revolutionary shoes resemble…well, shoes like the ones that Shigeki Tanaka wore when he won the Boston Marathon way back in 1951.

Shigeki Tanaka

marathon-tabi

Photo by Mutaurwa Mapondera

Or those more recently produced by the likes of Zem, SMAAT, and Eric Orton’s BTR:

Zem Gear

Zem Shoes

SMAAT Splitlander

SMAAT Splitlander

BTR Born to Run Shoes

B2R Shoes

Brooks has even paid homage to the split-toe Tabi design (in a more-or-less non-functional way) with it’s PureProject line of shoes:

Brooks PureGrit Sole

You’ll have to forgive me if innovative and revolutionary aren’t the first words that come to mind upon seeing the Topo Athletic offerings:

Topo Athletic shoe 1Topo Athletic shoe 2Topo Athletic shoe line

Topo Athletic Shoe Line (photo via Wired)

Now, you can tell from the photos that Topo has deep pockets – the shoes look more professionally designed than some of the other Tabi offerings on the market, but a zero drop Tabi shoe with a wide toebox is certainly nothing new. These Topo shoes essentially remind me of a split-toe version of the Merrell Barefoot Road or Flux Gloves, or a two-toed version of the Vibram Fivefingers. A slick marketing approach would seem to help cover for the fact that there really doesn’t seem to be a lot new here to add to the shoe market.

Maybe I’m colored by the fact that I’m just not that crazy about Tabi shoes. The Vibram Fivefingers were so beyond anything that had come out before in terms of appearance that they had the weird-cool thing going for them. However, whenever I put on a Tabi shoe (I have a few) my wife tells me I look like a camel.

I’m really not quite sure that I think these shoes will be a success. They might be great, and I’d consider buying a pair if reasonably priced (update: Wired reports $130 for the pink shoe above, $110 for the middle shoe, $100 for the shoe on the right), but I’m underwhelmed relative to what I expected based on the initial announcements came out.

What do you think – will these be a success? Would you stock them if you owned a shoe store, or has the split toe concept played itself out?

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.



Comments

  1. Kevin Dickson says:

    Why is it with all these foot shaped shoes they never think about people with Morton’s toe? I have never been able to wear VFFs and most of my other shoes are too long over the big toe to compensate for my second toe.

  2. Tad Kardis says:

    I have a few pairs of ZEMs. Round and split. In their earliest days (before the more built-up offering you see above) they made a slipper engineered for the beach, not the road. You’d be lucky to get 100m on the road before wearing through. The second round of models had sole designed to hold up on the road, but not much else. The split toes are called “ninja” and referred to as “cow shoes” in my house. Ran my first marathon in ‘em. The split toe design is nice for allowing some toe splay without sliding around in them too much, but at distances above 10 miles, you’re probably going to get a blood blister at the split. For the split to be functional without interfering with natural movement, it has to be flexible. These Topos don’t look very flexible to me. I vote “no thanks.”

  3. Lee Firman says:

    It’s great to see Tony Post giving a response to the review, which I would also like to add, was very informative. Thanks.

    The ToPo range certainly look nice. I’m a little disappointed with the wedge of sole underfoot – Not as minimalist as minimalist fans would like.

    Nevertheless, I await their release with excitement, and look forward to giving them a try!

    Lee from Feetus.co.uk

    Facebook: link to facebook.com

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  4. Tony Post says:

    Hi All, Tony Post here. I just want to say thank you for all of your comments and feedback. We really do want to hear it all, good or bad. Reading blogs, listening to product feedback, and hearing from users is a core part of our process.

    Pete, great job doing your research. We mention Shigeki Tanaka often and use that photo in nearly all of our presentations. He’s a pretty remarkable story.

    We all know that tabi-fit split toe footwear has been around for many, many years. However for us, it all comes down to product ingredients and execution. To use a cooking metaphor: everyone uses tomatoes, garlic, and salt in their red sauce, but everyone’s sauce tastes different. The same can be true in footwear.

    We like footwear that feels like its a part of your body, and we go to great lengths to make sure the shoes are light, secure, relatively seamless inside, and protective in areas where that can be a benefit to the user. Our broad anatomically designed forefoot allows the toes to spread and splay, while our split toe fit creates an anchor point in the forefoot so the shoe feels more secure and connected to your body. Our shoes are not really minimal, they are zero drop with 12-15mm of stack height (includes removable footbed).

    And while we are proud of the componentry, features, and our designs, we know our shoes may not be for everyone. That said, we’re working hard to learn more and get better, every day/month/season. Just like the athletes who inspire us.

    Again, thanks to all for your candor and comments!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Tony,

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment! As I mentioned in the post, I’m not so much disappointed in the shoes per se, it’s just that I was expecting something a bit more revolutionary based on the initial marketing splash. These seemed more like a slight variant of things we have already seen, though I do agree that the execution and workmanship look excellent compared to similar products that are on the market already. My feeling about the split toe is mostly aesthetic – I understand how allowing the big toe to function independently could be of benefit. I have seen this done well (B2R shoes) and rather poorly (Brooks Pure line). I’m just not sure of the market for the split toe design, though time and sales will obviously tell and I’d be happy to be proven wrong!

      Proof will be in the pudding as they say – I’m sure I will give them a try.
      Pete

      —-
      Pete Larson’s Web Links:
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      -Blog: http://www.runblogger.com
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  5. Jeff Dengate says:

    Two models are for running. The pink model above is a racer and does have the Boa lacing system. The gray/blue model is a slightly more substantial daily trainer–though still very low profile and lightweight. The other shoe seems to be going after the Cross Fit crowd. Regarding the Boa system, I asked Tony Post yesterday why he went with that. He’s a big fan, and doesn’t want to risk the possibility that his shoes come untied when running fast.

  6. Jim Hansen says:

    Nike had a similar split shoe like that in the 1980′s called the Rift, believe. It was dark green. When I typed that into Google for the images, there seems to be a lot of newer models of a Nike Rift shoe with the split toe, but I couldn’t find the original..

  7. Literal camel toe, huh?

  8. Stephen Boulet says:

    How is that B2R review coming? ;) I guess ultimately the proof will be how they perform on the feet. Edit: according to the Wired report, only one of these is a running shoe, the RR, and it’s a racing flat. I don’t see any good choices here for a lot of distance.

  9. Jason Jantzen says:

    Not sure if I’m the only runner out there with a huge callous on my footpad between the big toe and 2nd toe, but I feel a bit of relief running in VFFs vs normal shoes. A split toe would be ideal in that it only separates the two toes sharing the pressure of that callous and allows the others to spread freely. I’ve never tried it tho (just VFFs).

  10. Nicholas Pang says:

    The running & racing shoe (RR) weighs in at 5,3 ounces and the running & training shoe (RT) weights in at 6.0 ounces.

    http://minimalistrunningshoes….

  11. Note what appears to be a different lacing system for each of the 3 designs. Conventional laces, laces + velcro, and what appears to be a windlass. Just my guess- the windlass will be quickly dropped.

    • Pete Larson says:

      The ones on the left remind me of BOA laces – never been a big fan of that system. String works fine for me.

  12. While I think Tabi design makes sense, it doesn’t really correct years of cramming your feet into tight toe boxes. I have a pair of the B2R shoes, and while I think the design is great, I don’t believe they will produce the separation that is desired for the big toe to function as a solid anchor for your arch. The material between the first and second mets is just too thin.

    You’re probably better off getting something with a wide enough toebox to accomodate CorrectToes or some other similar spacer to wear to work and while you sleep instead. Run in whatever you want, but don’t expect the Tabis to change the shape of your feet.

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