Monday, May 12, 2014

My take on the Vibram Five Fingers Class Action Ruling - We need to do our homework

As an avid runner, it saddens me that so many individuals on facebook are so quick to  demonize Vibram as a Company along with the people who advocate the use of these unconventional, 5-toed minimalist shoes. As a fan and user of these shoes, I wanted to give my take on the matter at hand. 

Before I discovered minimalist shoes, I have always hated running. It always seemed like a punishment to run and my drill sergeants in high school JROTC reinforced this notion.  I have my cousin Alina to thank for really getting me into the sport, when she out of the blue asked if I wanted to run a Disney Half Marathon with her. Like any sport or hobby I get into, I do massive amounts of research about the gear or in this case footwear I would need to meet my goals.  I already knew Nike wouldn’t be for me, since I have wide-ish feet. It was through my incessant exploration into the world of running did I discover the barefoot movement.  They offered, wider toe boxes for natural foot splay, claims of increased foot strength, stronger calves and reduced chances of bunions and black toe-nail syndrome…SOLD. 

The “science” for my personal needs made a lot of sense and I promise I will not nerd out too much regarding the matter.  Heel striking encourages you not only to land forward of your body, but the impact to flow from your foot to your knees. Whereas forefoot/midfoot striking encourages runners to land center of their body with most of the impact absorbed in the calves. The latter technique is what most evangelical barefoot runners preach. In fact, most would encourage runners not to wear shoes at all, but if they had to recommend a pair you would almost always hear them recommend Vibram Five Finger Shoes.  

As I child, I spent most of my time walking around the house barefoot so this notion made a lot of sense to me. In fact, before I broke my leg, you could catch me running along the bike bath barefoot and with a smile on my face. To this day, I run half marathons with minimalist shoes as my preferred weapon of choice and given the number I have run in the past 4 years, I am wrongfully made me an authority in my friend’s/family’s eyes. On numerous occasions, I have been asked, “what shoes should I buy?”.  Although my gut reaction is to recommend my beloved five-toed shoes or my current favorite, Vivo Barefoots, I am hesitant to make said recommendations. Not everyone is made like me and what may be biomechanically perfect for me, may not be the same for you. Instead of recommending a particular shoe, I try to provide information about the advantages/disadvantages of using traditional versus minimalist type shoes, encouraging always to try both out.  If there is anything I am adamant about it is socks, but I won't cross that bridge today.

It really is a shame Vibram is caught up in this class action suit, as I have experienced the benefits of the claims they are being sued for: 

(1) Strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs 
(2) Improve range of motion in the ankles, feet, and toes 
(3) Stimulate neural function important to balance and agility
(4) Eliminate heel lift to align the spine and improve posture
(5) Allow the foot and body to move naturally

If the accusations are in fact correct and the Company did not do extensive research about said benefits, then it’s hard not to fault them for not doing their due diligence.  This news really hits home because I see so many correlations in the photography world where people take things at face value and become upset when things do not meet their expectations. It is so easy to demonize a company and its employees for making false claims or over hyping their products’ feature sets, but I find it strange that zero blame is placed on individuals about doing their due diligence  or lack thereof to research if a product fits their needs. I am kicking myself in the butt for asking Nate Blunty for full-frame advice not too long ago, when I should be doing my own research, renting gear and crunching the numbers before purchasing. I should be charged with doing my homework rather than drinking the marketing juice. If I act too quickly and adopt prematurely, I am the only one to blame.

Although I am probably entitled to a refund due to the ruling, I find myself not wanting any part of it as I have personally benefited from using these “weird” looking shoes.  I also understand there may be some of who have been hurt or experienced zero benefits from using these shoes. Strangely I felt inclined to balance the sentiment spreading around the internet especially those that fall too far on either extreme. My unsolicited advice to all, do your research.