Split toe shoes have grown in popularity over this past year, even to the point of appearing on runways and the feet of celebrities. Designers are using a variety of material to craft stylish and trendy shoes. What exactly are they and what is their purpose? Let's start with the history of this unique shoe.

Split Toe Shoes

Japanese Jika Tabi

The style originated in 20th century Japan and are called Jika Tabi. Contrary to today's modern fashion scene, the Jiki Tabi has roots in the workforce of laborers and industrial workers as the Japanese crafted them to be used as work boots. The earliest models of split toe shoes had only one split, which separated the big toe and the four small toes into just two separate compartments in the shoe. This split helped workers gain better traction and balance when working on rough terrain. When working long hours the improved soles and overall body composition made them a popular choice for workers seeking comfortable footwear.

 Decades later a Japanese company named Onitsuka - known today as Asics - created a split toe running shoe, or tabi, that translated the work boot style and comfort to athletics. The shoe excelled in competition, with one runner even setting a top marathon time wearing atabi. Hopes were high for this latest innovation in running, with Nike even introducing theirRift model in the early 1990's. The style faded as quickly as it arrived, however, and didn't truly become a trend until 2011.

Split Toe Shoes for Running

When ultramarathon runner Christopher McDougall released his 2009 book, Born to Run, many people began to question the support benefits of traditional running shoes. Runners began experimenting with barefoot running to return to the form nature intended - which increasingly showed better distance times and more importantly a decrease in injuries. Soon a new company would arrive to offer solid foot protection while mimicking the benefits of barefoot running.

Vibram Five Fingers

Vibram introduced the Five Fingers style of footwear that quickly became popular among barefoot running enthusiasts. They have arrived on the scene with their unique take on the tabi by providing separate compartments for each individual toe. Like their ancestors, they have a durable rubber sole, but Vibram soles have extra slits along them to increase flexibility.

The popularity of the split toe shoes has now spread to other sports where balance and grip is crucial to success. The shoe is a staple among surfers, who use the extra flexibility to grip their surf boards. The  style is still taking off, and you can expect to see them increasingly on the run way and on the running track.