A couple of weeks ago, we had a very interesting phone call from a lady who had bought a pair of Vibram Five Finger Sprints for her son from a website reporting to be a UK Vibram specialist. As the retail price for Sprints is over £100, she was naturally attracted by the very competitive prices that this website were advertising. As a treat for her son, she decided to purchase a pair. They had seen them when on holiday in the Alps and she had promised to buy him a pair when his feet stopped growing. She was therefore confident that he would be very happy with his surprise gift.
Unfortunately, when she received the shoes through the post some days later her confidence turned to suspicion. The innovative, high quality barefoot running shoes that she had seen in the Alps now turned out to be a fairly poorly held together imitation, constructed with substandard materials. Clearly suspicious that these were genuine Vibrams, she contacted Mastercard who informed her that, if she could get an independent opinion on the authentication of the shoes, then they would refund her full transaction – which is where we came in.
Upon receiving the shoes in question, it was immediately obvious to us that she had been sold a fake pair of Vibram Five Finger Sprints and that the genuine articles were of a far superior quality. So you know what to look out for, we have included a series of images below of the main things that we considered to me wrong with the ‘fake’ pair (ones on the left).
The material of the upper in the ‘fake’ versions (left) was a very shiny plastic fabric, not the more matt finish that you get from the official Vibram rubber uppers (right). The stitching as well was very simple in the suspect pair whereas the stitch pattern on the Vibrams was more intricate.
The heel of the suspect versions features a very wide black/grey plastic heel cup, which on the official versions (right0 is much narrower. the straps themselves are also longer on the ‘fake’ shoes and actually overlap each other at rest. meaning that there is little room for extra adjustment. Again, the stitching is substandard and basic.
When we examined the toes, it was obvious that the finish on the suspect version was nowhere near as good. You could see large parts of the yellow inner fabric poking out between the toes which is not there in the official versions due to a better finish and tighter gluing.
The insides of the shoes, although superficially similar soon showed differences again in the finish, the most obvious being that the ‘fake’ versions have a large ragged seam on the side of the foot which is not tidied away in any way and would rub uncomfortably should you use them for a prolonged period. The real versions have no such seam and therefore will not rub at all. A major advantage considering most people will wear them bare foot.
We produced a report of our findings for Mastercard and managed to help the lady get her money back from them. We have since supplied her with a replacement pair (a definitely official pair) which her son will hopefully be very happy with.
Our advice then is to be very careful where you purchase your Vibrams from. They have become a sought after product and therefore are attractive to the counterfeit market. Buy only from recommended retailers who you know stock legitimate brands and that you respect (like us!). The website our customer used was called www.vibramfivefingersaleuk.net and actually seems to be based in the far east. If you examine the site carefully, which our customer did in hindsight, you will find no phone number, no way of directly contacting them, no names, and no returns policy. If you have any doubt that you have been supplied a genuine article, do as our customer did and contact your card company, or if you want an independent opinion then feel free to get in touch with us on 01539 430121 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.