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Article in Director Magazine

>>01 January 1998

A sporting chance against the top dogs

IN A SPORTSWEAR INDUSTRY DOMINATED by big-name brands like Adidas and Nike, a "Made in Great Britain" label can still demand respect, for which David Hinde, managing director of sportwear designer UK Sportsgear, is grateful. As a sports-promotion consultant, Hinde, 36 noted an absence of new British sportswear brands and in 1993 set about developing his own. He recalls, "The competition was tough. In the early days, a "Made in Britain" label gave us credibility we would otherwise not have had".

UK Sportsgear, based in Nuneaton in Warwickshire, fielded its first orders from local rugby clubs, eventually designing strips for around 20 clubs in the Midlands, with Hinde himself creating the designs. The first big break came in 1994 with a successful bid to kit the Scottish and Welsh Commonwealth Games teams. "We were competing against the likes of Asics and Nike, which had the Scottish Athletics Federation contract," says Hinde. "But what we were offering was quite unique in that we could design for the entire team, giving them sense of uniformity that had been lacking in previous games".

Shortly after the games, UK Sportsgear won the Scottish Athletics Federation contract from Nike. Hinde says, "I think people were starting to see sportswear as something more than just a billboard. And while the big-name brands offered limited choice in design and style, we designed exclusively for the client. "The 1994 Commonwealth Games gave the company its first real international coverage.

But Hinde was keen to branch into other sports, turning his attention to cricket, where he had anticipated a change to the ruling, which forbade branding on clothing. "I was certain that within a couple of years, cricket would got the same way as football and tennis. We approached two of the largest cricket clubs, Warwickshire and Surrey, and came up with new styles and new fabrics for them."

Having just lost out to Asics for the England cricket team strip in 1997, Hinde struck a deal with the West Indies national squad. He also invested in Internet technology- to date, around £50,000 - with which he has set up an online sportswear design studio. Brand exposure through the media’s coverage, coupled with the Internet, has proved to be the perfect marketing strategy. "The Bermuda Hockey Association saw the West Indies strip, liked it, searched for us on the Internet, and asked for some designs. The running vests for MIT University in Boston were done in a similar way."

The UK sportswear industry is currently estimated to be worth over £2bn.With a staff of eight and a turnover of approximately £1m, UK Sportsgear’s next step will be into the retail market via licensing agreements. "It's very difficult for a small company", says Hinde. "The big brand names still dictate the terms. Licensing our brand to major manufactures and retailing groups will give them an element of control and access to overseas markets." Hinde says he will continue to explore other sports, which will stretch their design capabilities. "There are plenty of them about, things like snow boarding and street hockey, which, commercially, haven’t had all the life squeezed out of them."

Reporter: Alison Coleman