A Warwickshire footwear company has become an official supplier to the US Military Academy after their trainers became favourites with soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Trainers made by UK Gear, based near Coventry, became a favourite item among US soldiers trading equipment with their British counterparts while serving abroad.
And UK Gear has now signed a contract to make the trainers for cadets at West Point – the training point for the elite officers of the US Army.
It is the first time the firm has signed a general issue contract with the military in the US. David Hinde, the founder of UK Gear said he was delighted at the firm’s first contract with the US military, which accounts for more than 50 per cent of global military spending.
He said: “The fact that a small company in the West Midlands has won this is unbelievable. We set up our office in America about three years ago now, last year we sold to the US Air Force Academy, and now we’ve got West Point.
From West Point and the US Air Force Academy, it all goes down from there because they are the most prestigious people to sell to. It’s a huge credibility endorsement for us.
“We’re delighted to be working with the US Military Academy at West Point, an organization that takes fitness seriously and will really put our training shoes to the test.
“West Point now joins the British Armed services, the US Air Force Academy and the German Military, all of which wear our shoes.”
After UK Gear’s trainers became popular with US troops returning home, they started to go on sale in shops at several navy, army and marine training locations, as well as online.
A spokeswoman for the firm said: “Fitness is paramount to the cadets at West Point and having the best physical training equipment is essential to their fitness routine. The decision to wear the GT-02 Multisport training shoes that are designed and tested by military for military ensures this.”
In 2006 they broke through into US civilian life, when the firm signed a deal to sell training shoes bearing the British Army’s logo in the United States.
UK Gear was set up in 1993 as a designer and supplier of athletic sports gear. Its training shoes are the world’s first commercial products to be developed in association with the British Army’s Physical Training Corps and is now standard gear for more than 100,000 soldiers all over the world.
They set up a US subsidiary about three years ago to sell equipment in the largest military market in the world.
Mr Hinde said it had been difficult cracking America, but had been a massive boost to the company’s profile and profits.
“The US is a notoriously challenging market to break into but our unique relationship with the British Army and reputation for quality has secured the company a strong foothold in this highly competitive market,” he said.
“Our American customers recognise the importance of purpose designed specialist equipment and respect the fact that our first allegiance is to the true fitness enthusiast. Everything we develop is designed for the function not for fashion.
“I think we have proven that, with an excellent product and the right approach, a British company can succeed in the US market.
“There is all sorts of legislation you have to get over to be an official supplier, including at least a years worth of paperwork. It’s not very often that business traffic like this goes that way.
“But the average US soldier will spend more than $150 a year on trainers on site, so it’s a massive market. We have certainly got a very good foundation now we can prove that we are not a one-hit wonder.”
The company, which employs just 10 people, is now looking to increase its sales to civilians across the world.
Its shoes are designed and tested in Warwickshire and manufactured in Vietnam.