Skechers Pays Big for Sketchy Fitness Claims

The shoe company agreed to pay $40 million to settle government charges that it deceived consumers with exaggerated fitness claims.

Be honest with yourself: You knew your Skechers Shape Ups, those funny-looking platform sneakers with the rounded base, wouldn’t actually tone your butt, help you lose weight or strengthen your abs, despite what the ads said—er, right?

The Federal Trade Commission wants to officially set the record straight, and this week it made a major stride toward that end. The consumer-protection agency announced yesterday that Skechers has agreed to pay $40 million to settle charges that the company deceived consumers with unfounded fitness and health claims, which included cardiovascular benefits and weight loss claims. The settlement also covers misleading claims related to Sketchers Resistance Runners, Toners and Tone-up shoes.

The sum will go to consumers who purchased the Skechers products. You can make a claim for your slice of the pie here.

“The FTC complaint charges that Skechers violated federal law by making deceptive advertising claims, including falsely representing that clinical studies backed up the claims,” the agency said in a press release.

In fact, the complaint gets surprisingly specific, calling out the company’s ads featuring Kim Kardashian and Brooke Burke. One line item homes in on an advertisement featuring a chiropractor named Dr. Steven Gautreau, who recommends the toning shoes based on his own independent study. “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,” according to an FTC press release. Yikes.

The agency further reports that Skechers was the industry leader in toning footwear in 2010, with sales close to $1 billion. Under the settlement, Skechers will no longer be able to make claims about strengthening, weight loss or any other health or fitness benefits of its shoes, unless those benefits are proven by concrete scientific evidence (which I don’t see happening any time soon).

The FTC action is the latest wrist slap directed at athletic footwear companies. Reebok began shelling out $25 million in customer refunds last year at the order of the FTC for similarly misleading health claims about its EasyTone shoes. And last month, Vibram headed to court in a class-action suit questioning the health claims surrounding its minimalist Five Fingers shoes.

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