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UK Gear’s training shoes were originally designed in association with the Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC). These elite fitness professionals were closely involved in the development and tested our products in some of the most inhospitable conditions on Earth. Only when approved by the Military do we consider our products... Built to survive.

Birmingham Post - A shoe with Army approval

>>17 May 2005

David Hinde, head of UK Gear, tells John Revill how he came to design the official British Army running shoe and how he came by a rather unusual gift from Vietnam...

Sporting memorabilia abounds in the office of David Hinde and a few other stranger items.

Cricket gloves autographed by Alec Stewart, rugby balls from the World Cup and a football signed by Coventry City players nestle next to trophies he won during his amateur playing days.

But it is one particularly unusual item he singles out to show me – a small wine bottle containing a miniature cobra inside.

Across it is a label which says "Snake wine, product of Vietnam, one unit."

"They aren’t really into animal rights," explained David, a bit sheepishly.

"It is supposed to be linked to virility."

Now this is a personal profile, but it doesn’t have to be that personal.

Moving swiftly on, David (pictured) explained how he collected the bottle on a trip to Vietnam, where his company has its range of sports shoes manufactured.

The 42-year-old was back there recently as part of a marathon business trip that took in Singapore, Japan and the US to promote the PT 03 running shoe, the only commercial product which has been designed and developed in conjunction with the British Army.

The shoe is so good that it is now being sold at shops on American army bases, while the German military has approached the company to develop a cross country running version.

But that came much later. After leaving school at the age of 16, David joined GEC as a mechanical engineering apprentice, before leaving after four years.

He then became involved in sports marketing before deciding to set up UK Gear in 1993.

He said: "When I was at school the choice was between becoming an apprentice or joining the army.

"I had been in the army cadets, and loved the outdoor life. But I wanted to join the army as an officer and by the time I got to 16 I had had enough of school.

"So I got an apprenticeship with GEC. But it was just during the period when they were starting to close down a lot of their plants, and it didn‘t seem to have much of a future."

A relatively keen sportsman at school, while working at GEC he got the chance to go to upstate New York, teaching football skills to youngsters while away on their summer camps.

"I loved it, it was the first time I had really been away from home."

His six-month visa at an end, he returned to the UK where he got a job selling advertising space on a commission only basis in London, before switching to sport marketing, organising hospitality events for businesses.

"It was about problem solving. Once I was dealing with a roof tile company and they were not happy because none of the people they wanted ever came to their golfing days.

"I had to explain to them that builders merchants were probably not that interested in golf."

David was always being asked about who could produce kits and equipment and decided to leave the world of marketing and set up his own design firm.

"I spotted a gap in the market. There was nobody designing competitive sports clothing for teams and associations.

" There was a big gap between the major brands, who were supplying all the Premiership football clubs and for the Olympics, and the smaller mail-order companies who supplied kits to Sunday league teams."

David pitched his ideas to the Welsh and Scottish Commonwealth Games teams and was accepted for the 1994 event in Canada.

The contracts provided the launch pad for the company.

"That market was too small for Nike, Reebok, Adidas, but too big for the mail order companies.

"The clothing for all the competitors had designs on them. Scotland had a crisscross, Saltire like effect, while the Welsh one had dragon’s claws as well.

"We did the kit for the weight lifters, cyclists, runners, gymnasts, the whole team."

But wasn’t this totally different from his days as a mechanical engineer at GEC?

David didn’t seem to think so. "I am not a fashion designer," he replied. "I am a technical designer, and if you have a basic knowledge, it means you have a good background of putting things together.

"In mechanical engineering you learn about different materials and how they interact with each other, and it is the same with materials.

"Of course you go to the experts as well. I don’t know about the cut of certain garments, so I would speak to the experts."

David’s kits were so popular, that his company was chosen to provide the clothing for the Welsh and Scottish teams for the 1998 games in Kuala Lumpur.

Closer to home, he also supplied sporting clothing for the Island Games, universities and cricket clubs including Warwickshire.

"Nobody had changed the white cricket shirt for years, so I thought, let’s have a go at redesigning it.

" We started using man-made fibres instead of cotton. This would help dispense heat quicker and have anti bacterial qualities.

"Cricketers can sweat a lot and it was all about getting the sweat off the body without allowing the garment to stick to the sports man."

The arrangement resulted in a link up with the West Indies Test side, but it also eventually led to a disillusionment with supplying equipment to elite athletes.

"After spending years and years designing clothing for teams, I wanted to do something else. I wanted to design equipment for the general fitness enthusiast, not some diamond wearing individual."

So what drove this revelation, was it dealing with some particularly precious sporting prima donna?

" Sport has a different meaning now. In the past it used to be about the physical challenge and personal accomplishment, but now it is more about commerce and entertainment.

"It has lost something. That is part of the reason why everyone has clicked with cricket. It is great sport, there are no millions of pounds involved.

" A few cricketers will become wealthy, but it is not like with football. There was sportsmanship throughout the Ashes, and it was great to watch.

"Cricket has been like that for years, but people are only just beginning to realise it. It was everything sport should be."

So was there one specific case when he lost the interest in the high flying practitioners of professional sport to concentrate on the grass roots level, I persisted.

Thinking carefully, amid all his sporting memorabilia, David trawled his mind before he remembered.

It was when he was laying out all the different shirts for the West Indies cricket team, which was a far harder task than it sounds.

David explained: "It is not like with footballers where you just have small, large and extra large shirts.

"All cricketers are vastly different sizes, you are dealing with people like Curtley Ambrose (very tall fast bowler) and Brian Lara (shorter batsman) on the same teams.

"They are not only tall, but they each have their own unique physical build. You cannot just lay out 12 XL shirts and five large ones.

"I was nearly tailor making shirts and trousers for 30 guys because that was the size of the squad and you didn’t know who was going to be picked."

But that wasn’t the end of it, David explained.

Some batsmen would wear the same shirt for days on end if they were playing well, while others would constantly change in an effort to find form.

Each would be given ten shirts for a test match, but within that were several combinations.

"Just looking at the type of sleeve, there are six types, short, three quarters, long, XL and XXL.

"Then you have to consider if the player is right or left handed.

"Because of sponsorship considerations, the sponsors logo has to go on what is considered to be the active arm, which will be in front of the cameras more.

"Then you’ve got the size of the shirt as well."

David calculated there could be at least 40 different configurations of kit, and when produced for a team of 11, that meant 440 shirts.

"But then it is not just the team, but the whole squad. You could have to produce up to 1,200 shirts.

"Sometimes we would have to unpick the sleeves on some shirts and re-stitch them on to others. You were always trying to second guess the selectors all the time, it was a logistical nightmare.

"You expected the team to pick four left handed players, but then when they came out with eight, it blew you away."

David became tired of the expectations and ingratitude of some sportsmen.

"I think it has got to a stage where sports people do not always appreciate the support they get, the efforts other people put into assisting them has become expected rather than being thanked for.

"A lot of the innocent charm has gone. It is no longer about helping their ambition any more.

"I think lots of people think this, and lots of people are fed up with the celebrityism of sport."

But David still wanted to remain involved, although in a slightly different capacity, by designing a new type of running shoe.

It was from this his link with the British Army came about.

"If I was going to invest money in designing a running shoe, and to want to do it with an organisation that was serious about their fitness and uncompromising in their standards, the British Army seemed the natural choice.

"I had designed stuff before and getting proper feedback was difficult, with people often bitching about it."

David approached the army to try out his designs, with its Physical Training Corps eventually agreeing to try them out.

While the prototypes were being trialled, David struck lucky with the Army revealed it was looking for a commercial product to display its own crossed swords logo on.

After three years of trials and meetings, the PT 03 was ready, GB Sports clinched the right to market it with the British Army logo on it last year.

The Army’s PT Corps uses the shoes, and the company is waiting to hear if it will be adopted by the whole of the MoD.

"Forgive the pun, but from the starting blocks we have produced a commercial acceptable running shoe for a mature market, which is a statement of its quality."

It has been a success so far, accepted by 50 retailers in the US, with distributors signed up in Singapore and Japan as well.

That said, the trainer market is volatile and David won’t reveal figures of how many have been sold – "people will only get the wrong idea".

But the company is targeting turnover of between £3 million and £10 million over the next 18 months depending on how it fares.

How does the company compete with Reebok and Nike?

"We cannot compete with them, they are about mass consumed product. They are about fashion and sport.

"We are about performance products for those who are serious about physical fitness. "It is about a product that does the right job and offers value for money.

"The problem is that the area between fashion shoes and running shoes has become blurred."

The army logo, as a statement of the quality of the shoes, can only help, said David and was more valuable than celebrity endorsement from an athlete.

But does David keep himself fit?

"I try to run about 10km a week, although I haven’t for the last month. I go to the gym too, between sitting on aircraft.

"Fitness is important, in fact I would go further than that and say it is vital. The army has a phrase which is fit for purpose, which applies for individuals as well as the kit.

"Whatever your purpose is, you should be fit for it. I enjoy working with the army because they need to be fit to do what they do properly.

"But in general there is an increasing gulf between those people who are fit and those who are not."

Can anything be done to address the growing lethargy and general unhealthy state of our population?

David said: "You cannot make people do anything, but you can influence and motivate.

"Hopefully when people put on these shoes, it will help them with their motivation and all the past that goes with the Army."

So does he have many pairs at home?

"Well, being a size 11 and a half, the samples don’t tend to come in my size.

"I’ve got five or six pairs, but my wife has got more shoes than me."