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Army dips its toe into the 'badged' trainer market

>>16 September 2004

A new running shoe has for the first time been endorsed by the military. Catriona Davies tries it out at Aldershot.

Soldiers swapped their traditional boots for trainers at the Army School of Physical Training in Aldershot yesterday for the launch of the first commercial product to be endorsed by the Service.

From this weekend the PT-03 trainer will be competing with the like of Nike and Adidas on the shelves of sports shops.

Col Robin Clifford, the head of the Army's commercial branch, said the move into the uncharted territory of using the army logo for profit was part of an attempt to protect the brand from others exploiting it.

"On the face of it you will probably think it's not the sort of thing you would expect the Army to get involved in," he said.

"However, it became apparent that a number of people were using and exploiting the Army image for commercial gain, such as selling regimental badges.

"We are in the process of trade-marking the Army insignia, and as a part of that need to establish a record of trading on that brand."

Around the same time, David Hinde, the managing director of UK Gear, a company that makes professional sportswear, approached a friend in the Army Physical Training Corps about gaining the Army's help in developing his company's first trainers.

The friend had a word with his boss, Lt Col Phil Watkins, who agreed to give the trainers to his instructors to test.

Col Watkins said: "Our instructors were wearing shoes off the shelf and this guy wanted to create a new training shoe from a blank piece of paper. It became apparent that this was a serious product that had the legs to go."

Although the PT-03 trainers will be available in the shops from this weekend, they are not issued to soldiers.

The standard issue trainers, however, were described by one physical training instructor as "absolutely terrible" and "so uncomfortable to run in", and most soldiers buy their own after their initial training.

The PT-03 is currently competing with several others to be considered as the next standard issue trainer, but the cost - £79 in the shops - may prove prohibitive to Ministry of Defence budgets. The current Army trainers cost between £25 and £40 in the shops.

The box that the trainers come in bears the crossed swords logo of the Army Physical Training Corp; with only the "made in Vietnam" tag marring the image that is as British as you can get.

The company insists that these are not fashion trainers, but serious running shoes; probably just as well given they are grey, apparently a great colour for hiding dirt.

Given Kelly Holmes's previous career as an Army Physical Training Instructor, it is probably a good time to capitalise on the corps' reputation.

"Of course our image has been helped by Kelly Holmes's success," said Major David Scott, the second-in-command at the school.

The Army will receive a royalty from the company for each pair of trainers that is sold, although the percentage has not been disclosed. Its input has been through man-power, rather than monetary.

As part of the launch, journalists were invited to go for a run with the physical training instructors to test the trainers. With considerable trepidation I opted for the softies' run - a short jog around a field.

Fortunately, our instructor was considerably more sympathetic than presumably he was to his recruits: when we turned bright red and began to wheeze he suggested it was probably time to stop. The trainers appeared to do what they had been claimed to do, offer "cushioning, breathability and support" for one's feet.

The Army now looks into marketing other products in the field of sport or outdoor equipment.

Col Clifford said: "We need to be exceptionally careful about what we link ourselves to."