DANI: Hey, hey. Every once in a while, Katy or I will be away from home. So I’ll pull out one of these older shows we recorded earlier. I think this one is from May, so the content may not be timely, but I find it interesting all the same and I hope you do, too. Thanks!
DANI: Hi, there! Thank you for joining us. My name is Dani Hemmat, and I get to talk with Katy Bowman each and every show. Katy, welcome. How are you feeling today?
KATY: I’m good. I didn’t get much sleep last night, but I’m raring to go!
DANI: Excellent. Did you have a walk yet today?
KATY: Not yet. It’s early here and I did a podcast interview this morning so what I have done is I stretched during that podcast interview, and I’m stretching during this one, too. I’m doing my calf stretch right now.
DANI: Oh, me too! We’re twinsies.
DANI: Okay, so, I know this has just been lighting up your email board, I’m sure, about the Vibram FiveFingers suit, so I’m going to give a little background on this for the listeners. Last week, Vibram FiveFingers, that’s the five-toed shoes, had to settle a class action lawsuit for 3.7 million bucks. It was brought by a Florida woman who claimed that Vibram had misrepresented the health benefits of wearing the shoes for running. I actually reviewed the court’s memorandum, and believe it or not, it’s very interesting. I haven’t read a lot of court memoranda – this is my first one ever. It’s very interesting because the woman who brought the suit, she never claimed any injuries that were recognized in court. Her suit was based on the fact that she spent money – too much, according to her – on shoes that didn’t live up to advertised claims. Were you able to read that?
KATY: I did, yeah. I read the case that was available. Probably the same one you read. Did you read the one that was linked to the article that I had linked?
DANI: No, I looked it up and mine was from before the settlement, but the actual verbiage of the suit that was brought. So it was dated at the end of 2013.
KATY: Yeah, I read all that. I think that people are confused; it’s not about the shoes creating injury. The woman doesn’t have any injuries that she’s reported on her lawsuit. It was simply that she didn’t feel that – she felt that the claims were exaggerated and not supported and that they elicited excessive amounts of money. And I can go on and on. I think it’s important to clarify that they didn’t really “settle” in the way that people think – what they did was they put money in escrow. It’s so smart. What they did was they established a certain amount of money to go into escrow, and should people wish to get a refund they could out of that money. The only people who for sure got money were the lawyers involved.
DANI: Yeah, I’m sure they got plenty, too.
KATY: Yeah, they got something like under a million dollars for that. But everything else -- the money is sitting there, which my husband was saying is like – and really, that’s not a class action lawsuit. That’s what good customer service is, right? You have a problem with our product? Fine. We’ve set aside money for you to get a refund if you feel like the product was advertised to you maliciously.
DANI: That’s a good point. I try not to read comments on the Internet, because they really bum you out sometimes. I was reading some about this on the Washington Post website and it said, “Oh, great, I’ve got 3 pair – where can I get my refund?” So you were happy with three pair, but you still want to get some money back.
KATY: yeah, and the other thing was that I also read – it might have been a Twitter comment or something where someone said, “well, what I’m going to do is turn in my old pair for $20 to reinvest for my new pair.”
DANI: Oh my.
KATY: Yeah, I think Vibram handled it pretty well, and Vi-bram/Vee-bram – I don’t know how you say it. I say Vi-brum, you say Vee-brum in this like, Vi-ve la différence instead of Vee-ve la différence.
DANI: Oh! Oh, man. Well, it’s early here even though I’m an hour later than you are.
KATY: if you don’t know French it might have been over your head.
DANI: Unfortunately, that’s what I got my degree in.
KATY: Wow! Seriously?
DANI: Yeah! French and Deutsch!
KATY: I’m going to do it again. Vi-ve le différence! Is that better now?
DANI: (French accent) Oh, you are so clever! Hmm! (Regular speaking voice) I want to tell you what bothers me about this. I felt better after I read your blog post, and we’ll link to that in this podcast. It had a lot of good insights and an interesting way of looking at it that did kind of make me feel better. What bugged me was that the headlines that were barfed up all over the Internet intimated, I guess if vomit could intimate, that the shoes were the opposite of healthy. They were actually harmful wolves in funny, monkey-toed shoes, and what I guess that kind of made me mad was 1) the irresponsibility of the headlines and 2) even though Vibram has something on their website about how to transition in to the shoes – and it’s quite extensive – I wonder how many people really follow that? What are your – how did you feel when you read those headlines? I know you were having a screen free week, but that came through.
KATY: I was sucked out of it. Well, it was screen free – but I was still working, I just wasn’t doing social media. People thwarted my screen free week by directly emailing my inbox that they knew I couldn’t take a week away from certainly right now. But I deal with headlines like this every single day, so how people feel about seeing things like – what could only be described as pretty slanderous coverage of the issue. I say slanderous because I was reading a couple of them that were just – I mean, I hope they were done in jest. I hope they were done just to be inflammatory and that someone didn’t actually think they were doing journalism. You know, using the f-word inside pieces about effing ugly – and I’m surprised they didn’t get sued for being effing ugly. Basically implying that people who purchased them were suckers.
DANI: Yeah, I read a lot of that.
KATY: If you wear them, then you feel particularly called out for being stupid. Like, you – that you were suckered into buying this thing. Of course, the irony being that all those people making all those comments didn’t actually read any of the material associated or else they would realize that their comments on the matter were as ridiculous as they were implying other people for being duped. This is a whole thing of irony. So anyway, I feel that way pretty much about everything that’s written all the time.
DANI: And that’s why – don’t read the comments. It can be kind of ignorant and they’re not aware of all the information. We’ve all been guilty of that at some point, but I guess it kind of bugged me that so many people were vehemently declaring that, “ha-ha, sucker! I was tired of looking at your ugly shoes anyway!” You know? It’s like, this isn’t even what that’s about.
KATY: Right. Not helpful! So I think I felt compelled to come out of my hiatus because – you know, I have spent years helping people understand the merits of these, none of which this court case has to do with at all. Then I like to highlight that I actually – the suit was about running, if you read the works. So she was just essentially – the funniest thing that I found about that court – not a docket – the packet of information was the way that the lawyers had worded that Vibram had been particularly “dupe-ful”
KATY: Yes, deceitful, yes. In that they didn’t claim in their advertising, so obviously they’re seeing advertising as something different than the other parts of the website that listed things like: don’t keep running if they hurt you, and transition. I don’t really agree with their transition guidelines, but setting that aside, it’s not like they weren’t there. The funniest part was that the writing of this court case was like, and the shoes don’t even work unless you change your gait pattern and…which could be painful just in itself. And yeah, everyone who does exercise to improve knows that it hurts. It was just so – it was physiologically ridiculous presentation
DANI: Very much
KATY: And I think a lot of people felt like Vibram caved, because it was obviously just an asinine suit, with the exception of yes, if we’re breaking everything down semantically and you say that your shoe will make you healthier – and I don’t know exactly what their wording was, so I can’t evaluate it – was that yes, if it implied as a company that just putting a shoe on your foot and running around in it would make you better in the advertising, well, then, I guess they have a legal claim there. But it was a court case about semantics.
DANI: It totally is, and I was just going to read this little bit. I couldn’t get over it this weekend. This injury is an economic injury that she’s claiming, okay?
DANI: That was what it’s about. She paid $100 for shoes, and I don’t know how much a regular running shoe costs – probably about $80 or something? $100 I guess?
KATY: Yeah, well, it certainly wasn’t – I found that part also. It turns out the whole thing is hilarious because of that whole part of it being that they duped her out of money because of these magnificent claims. I mean, how many running shoes are significantly less than $85 or $100?
KATY: Not one that you would wear if you were a serious runner.
DANI: Exactly. And even those shoes that Sketcher made – they don’t make them anymore. But they had a 40 million dollar lawsuit brought against them. They’re called Shape Ups; they’re like a rocker bottom tennis shoe? And those were actually – do you remember those? They came out about 5 years ago or something. They were supposed to give you a nice butt.
KATY: Yeah, I was an expert witness in that case.
DANI: Oh, awesome! Okay, I did not know that. So much to talk about.
KATY: I can’t talk about it or they’ll kill me.
DANI: Okay, well, I’ll talk about that. But that was actually injury, okay. And that’s funny, because those also can cost up to $100. This was totally about, like you said, semantics. And there’s some stuff in this court memorandum: this price premium theory of injury. That’s what she’s claiming is that she had this economic injury. And what they based this on, this standard measure of damages in cases of deceit or deceptive advertising is called the Benefit of the Bargain Rule, whereby, and I quote: “The plaintiff is entitled to recover the difference between the value between what he has received and the actual value of what he would have received if the representations had been true.” So that saying that she only got $40 worth of health benefits from something she paid $100 for – so what would $100 of health benefits be? It doesn’t even make sense, and they have to follow precedent and rules in court and I understand that. But I just wonder how can they gauge what that $100 worth of benefits would have been?
KATY: Well, someone somewhere has said that they could but as with anything, the value of anything is what you pay for it. I sat once – I was on a flight and I sat next to the dean of a big business college that will go unnamed, mostly because I can’t remember the name of it – and it wasn’t Harvard, but it was like one that was important. You’re talking about what’s the value of something, and he was like, in short, the value of something is what people habitually pay for it. So those norms are just established by what a bunch of other people do. If footwear as just foot coverings – simple foot coverings, which of course provides a health benefit of not getting poked or stabbed by stuff that you walk on – makes walking more comfortable are somewhere between $40-$60 but you paid $100 for a shoe that you thought were going to miraculously change you into a healthier person just by slipping them on your feet, then that difference is what, $40?
DANI: Yeah, and like you brought up orthotics.
KATY: Well, that was my – I posted that yesterday because…it’s not really a debate except that I just like to put it out there that a main point of the case was that this company was using unsupported claims. To be brief, what they were doing was: there’s barefoot literature. There’s research on barefoot and what Vibram was doing was using the barefoot literature to say, here’s the physiological advantages to doing something barefoot, as researched. And OUR shoes are close enough to barefoot so therefore what you get when you’re barefoot is also what you get in our shoes. And you can’t really do that because it’s not the same thing. I mean, I would say that what they are implying was perhaps that the minimal, the Vibram body shape allows your foot to be closer in mobility to what it is when it’s barefoot than to what it is when it’s shod in something with a stiff sole. But actually what you would have to do to make those claims is you would have to have a separate study that compared bare feet to Vibram to see if those effects were the same, and that wasn’t there. What I posted yesterday on our Facebook page was just a link to orthotics. It was a link to a discussion on the research around orthotics and how orthotics themselves – orthotics as a category – there’s literature that shows that certain orthotics and certain populations have had certain effects, but yet everyone prescribes all sorts of different orthotics, unsearched, all of the time. And you spend way more money than what you spend on Vibrams because they get them throughout their life and they’re coming down through a medical prescription channel, and that falls under the exact same category of one portion of the Vibram lawsuit, yet no one is up in arms about orthotics being a non-evidence based practice. Who are you going to sue, though?
DANI: I have people come into my healthy foot class all the time and they’re mad because they spent $500 on their orthotics and 3 weeks of doing exercises with Restorative Exercise® and their feet feel better than they ever have. So they’ve spent a lot! That happens a lot with unsupported claims that products make. Why do you think that Vibram got the raw deal with this?
KATY: I think that someone just saw the potential to bring about a class action lawsuit. I think it was that simple. I also think that there’s a backlash against – I think that rightly so we’re kind of getting to the point that we’re fed up with advertising. So people are cracking down on advertising. And when I was working as an expert in the preliminary stages of a claim like this, the way it works is that there’s a review board that brings in a lot of different experts and is trying to figure out – they don’t know physiology so they depend on other people to discuss stuff. So how is this claim derived? They’re trying to figure out if it’s purposely deceitful or whatnot, so it must have just gotten through. I can’t imagine that the woman who brought the claim was originally thinking of putting together a class action suit. It’s probably just a perfect storm between representation who saw the potential and there must have been just enough material created by Vibram where it seemed feasible that something could get through the earlier, preliminary stages of the court case.
DANI: Do you think this would have happened, sorry, if they were $40 a pair?
KATY: No. I don’t think so, because the dollar amount would be too small. That’s the thing. $100 is a lot to a lot of people. We have to remember that exercisers in themselves, fitness people, it is a culture. It’s a very niche group of people. My parents and your parents would probably not purchase a pair of shoes for $100. In fact, I remember – my dad’s 86 – and he’d been wearing the same pair of shoes for a really, really long time and he’s had both of his hips replaced. So I said, I’m going to treat you to a new pair. He walked, every day – miles – early on. He had these old shoes and I said, I’m going to buy you a new pair of shoes, and he said, well, these shoes are fine. He came from the Depression, you know? So I bought him a pair, gosh, when I was in college, so it was 15 years ago. I spent $85 to get him a nice pair of athletic shoes that had cushion there, and he still has them. They’re still his pair of running shoes 15 years later. But he couldn’t believe how much they cost. To the general public, the people who wear $300 Manolo Blahnik’s - that’s a tiny, tiny population of the world. Everyone watches Sex And the City, but no one wears those shoes except a really, really small amount of people who live in areas where that’s how people dress. And then 1 or 2 people who are outliers who live in, say, Montana. I’m sure you could find someone who lives in Montana who is passionate about fashion footwear.
DANI: Oh, yeah.
KATY: And then athletics, people who have been doing athletics or teaching exercise, and being fit for a long period of time – shoes are a part of that equipment. It’s fitness equipment. They’re not shoes. They are something different. There’s a whole category of health-making shoes, and so these new types of shoes, they’re not really – I mean, they’re shoes but they’re not seen as shoes. They’re a frivolous piece of health equipment in this case.
DANI: Which is funny, because you can go buy a pair of Izumis for $140. My husband bought a pair when he used to run, and then I tried to get him to transition over to Vibrams and just walking in them – I don’t think he’s ever run in them, still, he just walks in them. But it was really hard for him to justify even though it’s the same or less than those Pearl Izumis, it’s for the same purpose. It’s athletic footwear. IT’s just harder for people; I don’t know if it’s because they’re super thin, because they’re silly looking, or what the deal is.
KATY: They’re not very substantial. It’s like, why charge so much for something that is less? That’s how a lot of people think about it.
KATY: That’s because the cost of a product is not just the cost of the materials and putting it together. There are lots and lots of invisible costs and one of the things that Vibram spent so much money on was breaking through a wall of sorts. I find that a lot of what they spent their money on was getting people to be aware that the footwear that they were wearing was affecting their body. How they chose to do it is how we all choose to present stuff – it’s a little inflammatory, it’s a little attention grabbing, and you have to simplify. I mean, that’s my irritation with people in general – and I try not to be irritated with people in general, because I love people, and I get why this is – but they are so focused on what’s being left out. When they read something, they can’t take the merits out of it; all they can do is recognize the holes without realizing that if someone actually took the time to put every single word in, they wouldn’t read it because they won’t take the time.
DANI: Right. And that’s actually something I wanted to ask you. They have, like I said, a pretty substantial education on transitioning on their website. Exercises to do, stop if this hurts, take a long time, it could take up to a year – stuff like that. What could they be doing more of, and would it matter? Would people read? I mean, I wonder how many people have actually read through the educational piece on transitioning to Vibram FiveFingers, or if they put them on and they take off running. I know plenty of people that have done that.
KATY: Sure. And I think that – they’re a product. They’re a product company. They can be a responsible product company, and what they should have done was say, “in order to reap the benefits of these shoes, you need to find an expert or go get a guide, and here’s how you transition,” and not have tried to be both the product company and the teacher and educator.
DANI: They probably wouldn’t sell a lot of shoes that way.
KATY: Right, and see, that’s the thing. If people are like, oh, I must do all this work to get these shoes to work! But then this happens – so for them, it was a risk that they took, and really the payoff is pretty low. The lawyers got about a million bucks, there’s a few million sitting in escrow for people who want to turn their Vibrams back in – which will probably be hardly anyone. I just don’t think that there’s going to be a ton of people turning their Vibrams back in.
DANI: Do you think it’s because there’s that many people that like them, or because they just don’t want to go to the effort?
KATY: I think effort has almost everything to do with it, but I also don’t think that there’s many people who are unhappy with them. I don’t feel that that many people feel duped. I think a lot of people go, “eh, I bought ‘em, it’s my responsibility.” It’s a very specific type of person who even subscribes to a class action, frivolous lawsuit mentality, and I that it’s perfectly okay to call out and bring a lawsuit against someone you believe was out to do harm, but I didn’t read that court case as that’s what they were saying. They didn’t even bring up the footwear doing harm. It was more about having to do work to use this shoe to reap the benefits, and the benefits may or may not exist – there’s not enough research and not enough, as I pointed out on my blog post, not quantified. And anywhere in science is there - it’s very subjective when something is “enough,” and even when something is enough, when we don’t want to change our habits or our culture, we just say what else was wrong was wrong with it and why we won’t be changing any time soon. It’s an endless pile of work. It’s just about self-responsibility. I think Vibram did exactly what they should have done.
DANI: That’s good. I felt kind of bad for them last Friday. In fact, that’s the only reason I got online was to read feedback because I was just certain in my naiveté that everybody would be rallying, going, “I love my FiveFingers! I love them!” and most of the comments were, like I said, people that were just upset about those shoes – not that they bought them, because they didn’t, but because of how funny looking they are. And out of every 15-20 comments, only one person would stand up and say, “hey, I bought them, they changed my life and I love them!” Everybody else was being kind of ugly trolls about it and were just mad because they were funny looking. I was hoping for a little more support, but the people that actually used the shoes were pretty supportive. Why do you think those shoes make people so uncomfortable, though?
KATY: I think it’s a counter-culture. To me, it’s a counter-culture. There’s lots of things – to have grown adults call out other grown adults for something being ugly is just – that is a whole – comment sections on the internet are a whole different culture themselves. What’s going on there is not someone’s take on the article. Very rarely is it just someone so moved by the article that they have to post a thoughtful comment. So stop reading the comment sections.
DANI: Like I said, I was just hoping for a rally and everyone grabbing their hands, red-rover style and saying, “Yeah! Vibram!”
KATY: But the people, I think the people who – I love Vibrams. I have been talking about them, I support them, I teach other people how to use them professionally and I don’t think one comment in support of a blog post mostly for other people; I think that population isn’t interested in playing that game. That’s why you didn’t see people who are perfectly happy with their shoes going for that catharsis. Comment sections, in general – not all comment sections; I’m really proud of the Aligned and Well Facebook page, because you almost see none of that –
DANI: I do like the comment section on the Aligned and Well page. I think it’s really respectful and very civil. People care about learning instead of just thrashing. Sometimes a comment section reminds me of the ball pit at IKEA that the kids jump in. It’s a big thing, and it’s got a bunch of big, plastic colored balls. You don’t jump in there to knit or crochet or have some quiet time; you jump in there to go, “Yaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!” and go cuckoo. It’s kind of the same thing with getting on a comment board; you’re only going there for pretty much that one specific action or feeling.
KATY: Although, I have to modify that because sometimes when I don’t know enough about a subject, I’ll read the comment section because embedded sometimes in those balls being flung there’ll be some great arguments. Considering everything is next to impossible; it’s not that you don’t have – I know hardly anything about nutrition. I’m trying to learn about all these complex things and biochemistry, and someone will say, “well, here’s where the statistics are and here’s how I worked it out” and someone who is a statistical epidemiologist will say, “well, but you’ve done the statistics wrong,” and what’s ironic is that it comes down to faith. You’re looking at who seems to be presenting the most sound argument, but you’re still subject to kind of going, “oh, that feels more right to me,” but the tone makes me realize that this person is just calmly stating this versus name-calling and stuff – I don’t even read those comments. They just make me feel bad, and that shortens my psoas!
DANI: That’s true. It’s a rabbit hole there. You have to be careful. You never know who is wearing the tin-foil hat; you have to follow up on an awful lot. Okay, we’ve got to wrap it up, but I have a question for you.
KATY: Do it.
DANI: What was your very first pair of FiveFingers shoes?
KATY: Oh, my gosh. My very first pair ever. I don’t remember the model name, but they were grey and they had a ballet flat top, so they weren’t a full upper. Oh, yes, and you know what? This is why I love blogging so much. It’s like a diary, because I don’t keep scrapbooks or a diary. I don’t make date books but I’ve got my blog and my blog really shows where I am through my life. So I got those before I had my son, so like, 4 years ago I got them, and I can’t even remember where, but I only wore them a little bit. And then I came up where I live now, to the Pacific Northwest, and went kayaking in them, and I fell in. And they got that kind of sound water – it’s seawater, real kelpy. I put them in a bag and I didn’t open that bag for 2 days.
DANI: Oh, no!
KATY: I didn’t know! I didn’t know, it was my first pair! I hadn’t even worn them! So they’re prone to bacteria, right? Because they’re made of material, and when you put that material and ocean matter together, they smelled so bad. They smelled like a rotten seal.
KATY: And I washed them – it didn’t matter. It didn’t come out. It was like a full colony, a full eco-system. So I put them in a bucket in Ventura, where it’s hot and dry, where I was living at the time. And you know how you just kind of throw a pair of gardening gloves in the corner and then next year they’re all dry and crusty because they’ve just been sitting there? Well, that absence of biological material, like I wasn’t putting my foot in and essentially feeding that bacteria cells, to eat, so they all died off and smelled fine, and I went back to wearing them until I got a hole. They were my first pair of Vibrams until I got a hole and now I’m on my 3rd pair, so I’ve actually stretched them pretty far. I’ve had 3 pairs.
DANI: They do really stretch far. I agree.
KATY: But I don’t run in them, so I don’t know if that’s different. My husband – I’ve been working on a blog post the last two years about gait patterns and how you wear your Vibrams down, and it’s interesting where he wore his down. I wore mine to Hawaii and I poked a hole in them on those gnarly – we call them goat heads.
DANI: Oh, yeah.
KATY: You know what I’m talking about, like a burr? The only thing that will go through a Vibram is this thing. I’ve walked on nails, I’ve walked on glass, and I’ve walked on all sorts of lava rock. The only thing that penetrated them was this burr.
DANI: Those are very nasty. I didn’t know they had them in Hawaii. We’ve got a lot out here in Montana.
KATY: I mean, what the heck. I got a hole and that was it. That hole became the stress riser, and that’s where they ended up failing.
DANI: My very first pair was the pink and orange, is it the Bikila?
KATY: Yes! I have those, too.
DANI: Those are good, and I have 6 pair, all different models because I just want to try them all out. And those I wore for a year and a half, walking every day until they started to wear through. That was pretty good.
KATY: You know, we should put a link to your ‘walk every day’ blog. That was a really good blog series.
DANI: Thank you.
KATY: Put that in the notes, because I don’t think most people know about that, and it’s such an inspiration.
DANI: Thank you. Well, I know I’m going to keep buying Vibrams, and you probably are, too.
KATY: Well, I’m going to wear Vi-brams, if that’s okay.
DANI: You can wear those and I’ll stand next to you wearing my Vee-brams and we’ll see who looks cuter.
KATY: Vi-ve le Veebrams!
DANI: All right, well, I think that’s it for this show. Got any final words on it?
DANI: Thank you for giving me your time! All right, I’ll talk to you later.