Skechers Forks Over Forty Million for Shape-Ups Deceptive Advertising Claims

There’s one website you don’t want a vanity URL on — the FTC’s. If you hop over to you’ll find the following message:

Did you buy Skechers Shape-ups, Resistance Runner, Toners, or Tone-ups shoes?

You may be eligible for…

If there’s one website you don’t want a vanity URL on (e.g. — it’s the FTC’s. Hop over to and you’ll find the following message:

Did you buy Skechers Shape-ups, Resistance Runner, Toners, or Tone-ups shoes?

You may be eligible for a refund.

The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, charged Skechers with making unfounded claims that its Shape-ups and other “toning shoes” would help people lose weight and tone their buttocks, legs, and abdominal muscles.

To settle the case, Skechers USA has agreed to pay $40 million to provide refunds to people who bought Skechers toning shoes.


Yep, it seems that Skechers was next in the FTC’s line after Reebok’s $25 million penalty over their EasyTone claims delivered back in September of 2011.

You can read all about the FTC’s slapdown on Skechers here. For a particularly snarky quote from that FTC post, check this:

“Skechers’ unfounded claims went beyond stronger and more toned muscles. The company even made claims about weight loss and cardiovascular health,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC’s message, for Skechers and other national advertisers, is to shape up your substantiation or tone down your claims.”

“Shape up or tone down”? Zing! Really, I can’t blame the FTC for including such punny goodness? That’s gonna leave a mark.

But in all seriousness, what does this settlement mean? Well, apparently most of the millions forked over by Skechers will end up in the hands of Shape-Ups consumers who were “duped” by the deceptive advertising claims of Skechers. What claims, exactly, did Skechers make? Per the FTC:

  • A Shape-ups ad telling consumers to “Shape Up While You Walk,” and “Get in Shape without Setting Foot in a Gym,” and claiming that the shoes are designed to promote weight loss and tone muscles. The FTC alleges that Skechers made unsupported claims that Shape-ups would provide more weight loss, and more muscle toning and strengthening than regular fitness shoes.
  • Shape-ups ads with an endorsement from a chiropractor named Dr. Steven Gautreau, who recommended the product based on the results of an “independent” clinical study he conducted that tested the shoes’ benefits compared to those provided by regular fitness shoes. The FTC alleges that this study did not produce the results claimed in the ad, that Skechers failed to disclose that Dr. Gautreau is married to a Skechers marketing executive, and that Skechers paid Dr. Gautreau to conduct the study.
  • Shape-ups ads featuring celebrities including Kim Kardashian and Brooke Burke. Airing during the 2011 Super Bowl, the Kardashian ad showed her dumping her personal trainer for a pair of Shape-ups. The Burke ad told consumers that the newest way to burn calories and tone and strengthen muscles was to tie their Shape-ups shoe laces.
  • An ad that claims consumers who wear Resistance Runner shoes will increase “muscle activation” by up to 85 percent for posture-related muscles, 71 percent for one of the muscles in the buttocks, and 68 percent for calf muscles, compared to wearing regular running shoes. The FTC alleges that in citing the study that claimed to back this up, Skechers cherry-picked results and failed to substantiate its ad claims.

Sounds reasonable enough, right? Well, it all depends on your perspective. Should consumers be protected from their own willingness to be sold? Are we mere leaves blown ’round by the (marketing) powers that be?

What do we make of this?

You’ll recall Vibram is being sued in a class action lawsuit over claims around barefoot running and FiveFingers. What’s with this trend of going after footwear manufacturers regarding claims about shoes?

Many readers might fist-pump over Skechers Shape-Ups getting nailed here — the gut-reaction-thought being something like, “A thickly cushioned roller shoe is supposed to help you burn calories and get in shape? Puh-lease! Skechers deserves to be called to task for selling such nonsense!”

But should they? If some of their marketing seemed so obviously false to you, why wasn’t it obviously false to others? What duty do we have as consumers to be skeptics? Take ownership over our own decisions?

Marketing claims paint the world in black and white when things are nuanced and complicated. So when Reebok talks about their Realflex being “natural running perfected,” well, my skepti-dar goes off — does yours?

Are we all so ready to be sold that we’ll happily adopt anything as truth that we just want to believe?

In the case of the Shape-Ups, I always found it incredibly frustrating to see unhealthy people walking around in shoes that supposedly will help slim them down when I know from personal experience that it takes putting in a serious, day-in-and-day-out intelligent, nuanced, and customized-for-me effort to get in or stay in shape (If you’re hunting for a place to start this kind of process, you could do a lot worse than head here). It’s like watching someone talking about diet while eating a salad covered in soybean oil and downing a Gatorade. I want to (non-judgmentally as I can) scream, “You’re doing it wrong!”

Taking responsibility.

The ultimate question in these cases is this: is it the responsibility of manufacturers to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt whatever claims they make about their products? Or is it the responsibility of the consumer to vet such claims against their own experience — their inner skeptic?

Personally, I think the weight of responsibility sits more squarely on the shoulders of individuals when it comes to being skeptical about the claims of third parties — be they friends, blogs, companies, or whatever. So while I cringe about black and white marketing that can play fast-and-loose with studies and “science” supporting this or that, I still think it’s up to individuals to take personal responsibility.

The barefoot perspective.

Really, that’s a very “barefoot” perspective on the matter, if you ask me. What is barefoot-powered running, walking, and movement but dialing up feedback from the ground and using that data to educate your form? It’s this reason why true barefooted running is so often cited as being so fundamentally important to learn how to run light and with low impact. It’s because 99% of us don’t have the option of having a third party coaching our form, but we do have incredibly sensitive feet that can feel their way into teaching us what hurts, what feels right, and what works. In other words, barefoot is about putting yourself in the driver’s seat of how you run/walk/whatever — it’s not about outsourcing that responsibility to another person or some mass-produced, sensory-dampening, cushioned, supportive, or otherwise biomechanics-affecting footwear! Barefoot is about your naked feet — and anything that gets in between your feet and the ground is not “barefoot.”

You can’t get any more bottom line than that. Alas, I’m (probably) preaching to the choir, here.

Human beings are better served taking responsibility for their decisions. And that means that while I don’t mind chiding a company for over-the-top, ridiculous marketing, I’m also not going to insist in the same breath that if I buy into their hype and it’s false, I should be somehow given a mulligan on the exchange and hold them responsible. This is because I expect people to embellish the truth, exaggerate at times, and other times outright lie. And while deceiving people is not right, ownership over determining what is or isn’t true is better placed on the shoulders of the individual.

Sometimes we have to be put in an uncomfortable position to learn. Sometimes it’s going to hurt. It’s a barefoot life.

By Justin

Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad of three, working from Atlanta. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.

18 replies on “Skechers Forks Over Forty Million for Shape-Ups Deceptive Advertising Claims”

I hope Vibram holds it ground on any cases brought against it. Of course I’m looking at this with biased eyes, but I don’t believe Vibam has not made any unfounded claims about their product. Vibram flat out tells you to take it easy while your feet get stronger. All which is a matter of fact in my eyes. I also believe there is enough evidence now to prove everything Vibram claimed about their Fivefingers. If I were Vibram I would make a call to Dr. Daniel Lieberman, professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. Make him your star witness to address any questions that the FTC might have about any of Vibram’s marketing.

That’s great!! Make them pay!
Why not make Asics, Nike, etc…. pay for false advertising for their padded heel and pronation gimmick things too?

The problem is if you sue one you can sue them all, and what happens to companies like Skechers and Reebok can happen to the rest of the industry.

Justin, I mostly agree with you about consumers taking responsibility for their own purchases and willingness to believe marketing hype. But where I think it crosses a line is when we talk about companies citing studies that are biased, unscientific, or different from what is claimed. If it’s just a marketing claim that’s one thing. But if you tell me there’s hard data for what you’re saying and there isn’t, that seems to cross the line from marketing fluff into outright deception.

From what little I know of the sketchers and vibrant cases, it sounds to me that the former crossed that line and the latter did not.

And, @ludo, I see that as different because the nikes of the world are not actively making untrue claims. If they were saying “wear this shoe because it will prevent injury,” and they didn’t have data for that, then ok. But their marketing does not say that. They may want you to believe it (as does vibram w/r/t five fingers!), but therein lies the difference between marketing and active deception.

I never figured that Skechers would be sued, but I was waiting for the evidence that that horrible sole destroyed your body…

Next is MBT, the original frankenshoe creator, guilty of this rocker-shoes madness. I hope they get what they deserve, because my eyes become sore every time I see a girl wearing their mostrosities..

I bought a pair of Sketchers Shape-Ups from their work wear line. I briefly tried them out, now they are sitting unused and I’d love a refund from Sketchers. Any money is better than nothing. I realize that they are willing to give refunds, however has anyone sued from sustaining injuries wearing them? I have not had this happen, but have witnessed people tripping and falling over. I would imagine there have been ankle sprains and other injuries that have occurred as people have tried to use these miracle shoes.

New Balance marketed their own version of a toning shoe, too, right? I wonder if they’re a little worried about this ruling against Sketchers. And, if NB gets sued, I wonder if they’ll be more cautious about other product lines that may incite such skepticism.

I like your point about taking responsibility. Great post.

I actually liked my skechers, and it was through that MBT based approach that I came to barefoot running. The movement they were trying to facilitate is really the same one we use in barefoot running, getting off the heel and moving to the forefoot, emulated in these shoes by the forward rolling design in the days before vibram soles were available. So I don’t really see much reason for people on this site to be so jubilant, this same suit may come back at barefoot running claims as well.

I’m happy to see that the future for skechers look better than the past…i know that there’s a new shoe they call “go bionic” coming this summer with zero drop, very flexible and ultra light…look interesting…

My mom had given me her Sketchers because they were a little small for her. I tried them for a while but never felt comfortable in them. I always knew they were on my feet and had to be careful not to step funny for fear of falling over. They also weren’t really practical for all the different activities I do anyway. It is pretty hard to go hiking or run on the beach in them! I switched to fivefingers shortly after trying the sketchers and never looked back. I don’t entirely agree with the ruling. It certainly isn’t helping the consumer take responsibility for their own actions.

I agree with you that the consumer should do a better job of weeding out the BS in advertisements. Yet it would be much simpler if shoe companies just didn’t make up a bunch of BS to sell their shoes. Just tell us what they really are, and if they are good, we will buy them.

Skechers is the king of knock off shoes and destroyed the category for rocker bottom shoes. The shame is that Skechers flooding the market with cheap imitations of MBT shoes have left the originator of the rocker bottom bankrupt. Whether they remain a going concern is n doubt. The cycle I have seen in rocker bottom shoes is repeating itself in the barefoot area. Fila flooded the market with skeletoes. This has damaged Vibram in the short term and you can already pick up skeletoes below their wholesale price for under $25. The question now becomes can Vibram survive the glut of $25 skeletoes and fake fivefingers. I think they can, but past history says it will harm the brand. Now Skechers having destroyed the rocker bottom category is entering the minimalist category. Stay tuned.

I have been wearing MBT shoes for 10 years. I have 10 pairs & they are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned. It does take a few days to get accustomed to them & they are pricey but I really hope the company continues to stay in business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *