The sound of heads shaking is echoing throughout the barefoot/minimalist community after news of Vibram's settlement of a class-action lawsuit accusing them of making baseless claims that their Fivefingers line of minimalist footwear could reduce injury and strengthen foot muscles. Now the company has put aside $3.75 million dollars to pay back customers who didn't see such results.
we've seen this before with Sketchers Shape-up line of shoes and FitFlop's sandals.
I'm sure so many podiatrists are laughing about all of this. The most vocal of them take great pleasure in getting on their anti-barefoot-running Websites, their Twitter accounts, and other outlets to essentially say, "See?! The evidence isn't there that minimalist shoes are good for you! We've been saying it all along!"
I totally get it. It's academically dishonest to make claims that using a product aids the feet in reducing injuries and getting stronger when there's no evidence. That makes sense.
As I type this, I'm wearing one of my FOUR pairs of Vibram Fivefingers. Why? Because I have to wear closed-toe shoes for my job. Otherwise I'd be barefoot.
Bare feet are the human condition. Let's all keep remembering that. We were born with bare feet. People have lived for millenia with no shoes and done fine.
In everything we do, going barefoot should be the baseline and any shoes should be added only as necessary. Any claims about what those shoes or orthotics or braces or whatever can do should be based around improving the human condition and they should be backed by evidence.
So instead of:
"Vibram Fivefingers strengthen the feet and reduce injuries" (compared to standard shoes) ...
The claims should be:
"Vibram Fivefingers increase traction on many surfaces and protect the feet while preserving most of the foot's natural function."
See the difference? It's easy to get into legal hot water with the first statement -- obviously, because it happened. It's a lot harder with the second.
I wear Vibram Fivefingers, among other brands of minimal footwear, when I need something on my feet for protection, warmth, or to fulfill a policy when it's not okay to challenge the system. I wear them because they add little to the feet -- NOT because they are so much less bulky or injurious than normal shoes.
As the Barefoot Alliance says in it's main hashtag, #BarefootIsHuman. Let's stop making baseless claims that hurt the underlying intent of the barefoot/minimalist movement and start behaving as if shoes add to the feet instead of barefoot being the subtraction of shoes.
It's more accurate all around, and more honest.