LOS ANGELES — Fitness shoes that wobbled into major-league popularity last year with names like Shape-ups, EasyTone and TrueBalance are getting a tough workout these days.
Heralded as the secret to tightening your buns, thighs and abs, the shoes — equipped with uneven soles designed to put muscles into overdrive — flew off the shelves last year as Americans, by one estimate, scooped up nearly 10 million pairs amid the latest fad in the finicky footwear industry.
One year later, the shoes have fallen in popularity in a now-flooded market for workout shoes, and companies are focusing more on lighter-weight shoes.
Although around for years, most Americans became familiar with toning shoes in 2009 and 2010 as companies hawked pairs for around $100. But now with the glut, prices have been cut, and sales have dropped.
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Reebok, New Balance and other brands have played a big role in the shoes' popularity, but no one more than Skechers, which makes Shape-ups and Tone-ups. The company's sales and stock price soared in 2010, but no more. On Wednesday, the company said it lost $29.9 million in the second quarter, compared with a profit of $40.2 million during the same period last year. Sales fell 14 percent to $434.4 million. Shares have plunged 28 percent year to date.
Company officials blamed the loss mostly on a tough market for toning shoes.
"We aggressively reduced our excess toning inventory during the second quarter by selling 2 million pairs of our original Shape-ups for a loss of $21 million," Chief Operating Officer David Weinberg said in a statement.
Skechers is rolling out a new line of lighter-weight, athletically styled Shape-ups and Tone-ups with smaller soles; those shoes were renamed "fitness" rather than "toning."
Many have expressed skepticism since toning footwear took off. Lawsuits have been filed against Skechers, Reebok and New Balance alleging deceptive marketing. The companies have responded by standing by their products.
Last year, the San Diego-based American Council on Exercise funded a study that found Skechers Shape-ups, Reebok EasyTone and Masai Barefoot Technology toned one's muscles no more than normal running shoes.
And Consumer Reports, citing the shoes' instability, recently said they "could send you to the couch with your foot in a cast."
Skechers Chief Executive Robert Greenberg called the criticism nonsense, citing thousands of unsolicited letters from customers. "I know in my heart we have helped so many people," he said.