Toward the beginning of May, Vibram, the makers of the famed and funny-looking FiveFinger shoes, settled a class action lawsuit by reaching a $3.75 million settlement with customers over claims of false advertising. The ads, plaintiffs allege, claimed benefits like posture improvement that didn’t live up to the research surrounding the footwear. If you purchased certain pairs of FiveFingers between March 21, 2008 and May 27, 2014, you can file a claim for up to $50 per pair, maxing out at $94.
Many will claim this settlement is a win for consumers and good marketing practices, but the settlement isn’t necessarily an admittance of wrongdoing. Research, by nature, can be waffly, and it’s likely that many people used the shoes without a break-in period of about six weeks – wearing them around the house, for example, to get used to the new shoes before hitting the pavement. Our fitness director can personally vouch for the fact that FiveFingers are great for weight lifting, especially on big lifts like squats and deadlifts. But beyond word-of-mouth, the FiveFingers brand is undoubtedly tarnished for the time being. Their solution?
“I think the class action suit was a few people looking at an opportunity to make some money, frankly,” says Michael V. Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Vibram USA. “We went through a long litigation process for probably a year and a half, and we probably had that amount of time to litigate this until it got to a conclusion. But we made a business decision that we wanted to move on with the business versus continuing time and money and resources. During this time, we’ve continued to have passionate users of our product continue to write daily to us about the benefits that they’ve received from our shoes. We know our product’s not for everyone, but we’ve gone to great lengths to illustrate a break-in period, how you should use the product and where.”
In accordance with the settlement, Vibram has stopped using the five-point benefit tool – what the case is all about – in its marketing, and it’s looking to re-brand itself.
“The suit was primarily about running,” says Gionfriddo. “Since that time, we’ve expanded our offerings to include watersports, fitness, casual, and golf, as we’ve looked at opportunities to take that whole minimalist feel and bring it into other areas.”
FiveFingers on the golf course? It’s happening. Vibrams for hiking in the great outdoors? They’re on the way, too. And even shoes specifically targeted for women? In the bag: The Alitza Breathe looks like it’s fit for a yoga studio or ballet practice. The new Signa has a drainable bottom sole for watersports. New sole compounds and a rugged look accompany the Trek Ascent LR for hiking and outdoors.
And the minimalist running shoe? Still available (without the marketing claims). Vibram seems pretty confident, making the guarantee that if you buy a pair on their website through the end of the year and don’t like it within six week, they’ll refund you. Find all the new, different options soon at vibramfivefingers.com.