The man behind the “five-fingers” shoe is at it again.
Topo Athletic of Newton, named for chief executive Tony Post’s college moniker, is introducing a different kind of unconventional running shoe this week. The new company’s first line of sneakers appears typical of the minimalist running shoe craze. But a quick glance from above reveals a split-toe design that is anything but normal.
The shoe mimics a unique Japanese style — worn by Shigeki Tanak, winner of the 1951 Boston Marathon — and has a separate pocket for the big toe.
“The big toe is really important for balance and agility and a sense of control,” Post said. “Being able to move the big toe a little more independently allows you to make adjustments you might not even be aware of. It allows you to leverage the strength of the big toe.”
Post made a big name for himself at another company a decade ago when it introduced the line of footwear called FiveFingers — five-pocket shoes that look like gloves for your feet — loved by some and reviled by others.
The new shoe he developed at Topo Athletic is lightweight, with a zero heel-to-toe platform drop and welded seam. But the sneaker’s eye-catching feature is the big-toe pocket that anchors the foot in an otherwise roomy toe box, designed to prevent the foot from sliding.
“It allows you to run in a more natural way,” Post said. “It just gave this wonderful feeling of connectedness. When it feels more like a part of your body, you feel lighter, faster, and more nimble.”
The launch includes three models of the split-toe sneaker.
The RR version, short for road race, features a cord made of 49 woven steel fibers instead of laces that is tightened by an adjustable round knob. Similar lacing systems, made by a company called Boa, are available for snowboard boots.
Another model, the RT, is an everyday road training running shoe, and the RX was developed specifically for functional fitness, such as crosstraining.
The shoes, priced between $100 and $130, go on sale online and at stores, including Boston’s City Sports, this week.
Greg Zuckerman, a City Sports footwear buyer, said the design of the Topo shoes will probably turn some consumers away, but appeal to others looking for the next new running shoe technology.
He said he looked to Post’s past success as US chief executive of Vibram, the company that created the FiveFingers shoes, when he decided to sell Topo products.
“My confidence in Tony and his team has given me the confidence to bring in the full line,” he said.
Post has a storied history with visually unappealing, yet successful, shoes.
He started his shoe career with Rockport, a company he said had “the ugliest shoes around” when he worked for them in the 1980s. In 15 years with the company, he rose to senior vice president of product and marketing.
Then in 2001, after a brief stint in the tech world, he joined Vibram. The company’s revenues soared from about $435,000 before the release of FiveFingers, in 2005, to more than $95 million in 2011.
Vibram sold about four million pairs of FiveFingers shoes during Post’s years at the company.
“They definitely didn’t appeal to everybody,” Post said. “They were odd looking. I didn’t think it was going to become the phenomena it became.”
Vibram USA was hit with two class-action lawsuits last year that challenged the company’s health claims about FiveFingers shoes. The company attempted to dismiss the first case this year, but a federal judge in Boston allowed it to move forward.
Post stepped down as chief executive and president a year ago. He said his Vibram career had peaked and he wanted to build a new company.
Post started Topo in August, bringing Darren Josey, now sales operations manager, and Georgia Shaw, director of marketing, from Vibram. He poured his own money into the company as an angel investor, and Norwest Venture Partners, a venture capital firm in Palo Alto, Calif., added another $5 million.
Now Topo has 10 employees and dozens of contract workers.
Post seems to have realistic view of his shoes, which he said have been tested internally with a mix of high-caliber and everyday athletes
“It’s not for everybody,” he said. “There are a lot of people who won’t like it. It won’t be for them. It’s a product I’m happy with, and I hope there are some other folks that like it, too.”