There is a great article in today’s Inc. about Vibram Five Fingers’ recent battle with counterfeiters. It details the history of the Five Fingered shoe, acquiring the idea from a budding young design student in 2006. By 2007, Time Magazine had already named the shoes one of the best health inventions of the year. Then came Christopher McDougall’s famous 2009 best selling book, Born to Run. That followed with another popular article in Nature’s International Weekly Journal of Science in 2010, all which saw an upswing in the barefoot movement.
Which brings us to Franklin, Massachusetts, when in 2010 a pair of what appeared to be Vibram Five Fingers were delivered to Vibram’s warehouse. A customer had sent them in demanding a refund. The soles had separated from the bottom of the shoe and the seams had split. As the article states, “over the next two weeks, the warehouse received 50 more pairs of bogus shoes, all with the same problems.” What Vibram soon found out was “more than 100 websites had flooded the market with phony Five Fingers.”
I have been wearing Vibram’s for several years and due to the fact we in Australia are charged almost two and a half times the price US consumers pay, I remember searching for cheaper options online. I can attest to the fact I found three or four websites that were selling Vibram’s for around $70, at least $20 cheaper than what US customers were paying back then. I also found countless knock-offs on eBay and a whole host of other classified sites. Fortunately, I never purchased any of my shoes for these unscrupulous vendors, though I do know several people who did. Within weeks they experienced some of the same problems listed in the article: soles falling off, stitching coming undone and color fading.
To remedy the issue Vibram went all out. First, they increased their production of the shoes so they could keep up with customer demand. They expanded manufacturing from one to six factories. They contacted Google and Facebook to stop placing the fake advertisement on their sites and alerted U.S Customs and Border Protection. They spent over $100,000 on lawyers and investigators to pressure hosting companies to shut down the websites selling the bogus shoes, although most importantly Vibram began taking care of their customer base. They started an advertising campaign warning consumers of how to spot the fakes and offered 50% discounts to anyone who had purchased a bogus pair. It was a campaign that until recently was still displayed on their websites homepage.
Although the counterfeit issue has not cease much of the companies efforts have paid off. In 2011 they doubled their sales to over $100 million dollars. Add that to the fact that anyone who has walked into a CrossFit box of late can surely testify that these shoes only seem to be going from stride to stride.
The Inc. article is a great read so if you have a time you can check it [out here]