Class Pooh-Poohs 'Barefoot' Running Shoes


     LOS ANGELES (CN) - Vibram FiveFingers makes unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits of its "barefoot" running shoes, which may actually increase the risk of injury, consumers say in a federal class action.
     Lead plaintiff Ali Savafi sued Concord, Mass.-based Vibram Inc. and Vibram FiveFingers. Savafi says Vibram's claims that its shoes improve posture, prevent injury and promote spine alignment are false and deceptive.
     Vibram FiveFingers claims its "minimalist shoes," which cost $80 to $125, replicate the benefits of barefoot running.
     The shoes, contoured to fit the shape of the foot, fitting glovelike over the toes, are made with a thin Vibram patented sole. But the class says the shoes do not perform as advertised.
     "Unbeknownst to consumers, defendants' health benefit claims are false and deceptive because FiveFingers are not proven to provide any of the health benefits beyond what conventional running shoes provide," according to the 31-page federal complaint.
     No scientific evidence supports FiveFingers' advertising claims, and compared to other running shoes - or actual barefoot running - the company's products may increase the risk of injury, the class claims.
     "With conventional running shoes, the runner runs with a heel-strike manner. But with FiveFingers, a runner must run with a forefoot strike pattern," the complaint states. "This process, necessary with FiveFingers, can be long and painful, and can even lead to injuries."
     A University of Wisconsin study found that runners often have to change their gait when switching to FiveFingers running shoes, the class claims. It says that adapting to the shoes may involve an "injury-fraught regimen."
     "Defendants conveyed and continue to convey their deceptive claims about FiveFingers in a variety of ways that repeat and reinforce the deceptive message, including at the point of sale, with in-store displays, with packaging that typically includes booklets and hang tags, and on the Internet," the complaint states.
     The class is represented by Jeff Westerman with Milberg LLP.
     It seeks a jury trial, restitution, an injunction and damages for unfair competition, violations of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, and breach of express warranty.
     Vibram did not immediately respond to a request for comment.