The outdoors is the home of Jerome Bernard, Sport Innovation Marketing Global Director of Vibram

“When we talk about ‘yellow blood,’ we do it because those who enter Vibram know they become part of an 86-year history and a clear family vision, shaped by Vitale Bramani and his mountaineering achievements. It all stemmed from a specific need: being safe in the outdoors. And to this day, we remain driven by a strong sense of duty. We are convinced that the sole is a fundamental element for safety: after all, it connects us to the terrain below our feet. When it comes to the mountains and the outdoors, our lives literally depend on the sole. We know we have a huge responsibility, and for that reason, we work every day to raise the performance of our products.”

Joseph Conrad once wrote that the possibility of finding oneself can be found in work. This assumption perfectly matches the professional and personal identity of Jerome Bernard, Sports Innovation Marketing Global Director of Vibram. It is rare to enter into total symbiosis with one’s company and even rarer to modify one’s DNA to stay in sync, influencing and expanding it with a virtuous vision that, for almost a century, remains unchanged. It is Vibram genetics. The genetics of Jerome Bernard. An outdoorsman, an athlete-manager who sought to make this universe his daily cause, following in the footsteps of Vitale Bramani.

“I like to keep coming back to the origins of the company. Over time, the Bramani family has managed to maintain the same spirit and outlook that our founder conveyed. In the outdoors, we sometimes face questions of life and death. And we know these words take on true meaning when you have a real connection to this world. I’ve been climbing for a long time, and many other Vibram professionals are athletes or have had an extensive outdoor sports background. Ours is more of a calling than just a job: we talk about things we know and, at the same time, we are aware we have a unique power at our disposal. We want to turn that into something useful for the outdoor community. Today, raising awareness of the correct approach to the mountains is more crucial than ever. The target audience is changing so much; it’s no longer specialized, and I love that more and more people want to connect with nature. But if you don’t pay attention, don’t get informed, and aren’t willing to adapt, you run the risk of serious problems. There is a significant lack of outdoor culture. Our industry needs to raise awareness about the precise rules and use of materials suitable for different contexts. This newfound love of the outdoors is a huge opportunity, of course, but it needs to be managed from all points of view.”

When Jerome Bernard speaks of awareness, he speaks from first-hand experience earned during the nearly 30 years spent between the offices and workshops of Albizzate, the brand’s historic headquarters. Years of evolutions and revolutions have allowed a family business to expand and establish itself globally. Years of relationships with the sports universe and its protagonists: conscientious collaborations not developed around sterile performance data but by studying the content and values of each athlete. It is a question of identity, Bernard insists, and Vibram’s identity is inevitably conveyed through its impact on sports and dynamics. As Sport Innovation Marketing Global Director, Bernand is one of the leading proponents of this impact.

“One of my first proposals at Vibram was to set up a Tester Team. It was 1997 and I had just joined the company. I thought it was imperative that competent figures be involved in testing our products ‘in the field.’ In 2010, however, we officially created the Vibram Athletes Team, again inspired by Vitale Bramani. Unlike other brands that focused on superstars and unreachable athletes, we decided to represent the outdoors community differently: we wanted to be open to everyone, guided by the philosophy of “Ordinary People Being Extraordinary.” Our athletes have always been accessible; they are our voices and agents in our environmental commitment. They are disseminators who, despite their athletic successes, stand on the same level as us, sharing meaningful testimonies. Our attention, however, is not limited to them. Since 2008, for example, we have partnered with UTMB Mont-Blanc, the world’s most iconic trail running event. It is a unique partnership that involves us personally in the planning of this wonderful event. When we established this relationship, trail running was a niche sport, but I had this feeling it could become a driving movement in the company. I wanted Vibram to become a world leader in trail soles, and fortunately, we succeeded.”

Words confirmed through action, underscored by recent collaborations with monumental brands like Nike and exciting new vertical companies like NNormal, spearheaded by living legend Kilian Jornet. In Jerome Bernard’s mind, these words can be summed up by a single, pragmatic word-manifesto: identity. The precious identity of a brand that aims to maintain its synonymy with excellence while safeguarding and centering its legacy. “The fashion environment is transient and fleeting,” Bernard concludes, “It’s obvious that so many brands have an identity problem and approach the outdoors to find it. The outdoors does have a strong identity. And, in Vibram, this identity is even stronger. That’s why we export it very carefully all over the world, careful not to diminish our history or get swallowed up.

Text by Gianmarco Pacione

Photo credits: Riccardo Romani