The trend factor

The topic of trainers is not without controversy. Children are very aware of which products have the vital cool factor, and which do not. But teachers worry about class divisions and snobbery: will the child with posh trainers lord it over the one who can only afford a pair from Sainsbury's? Some schools have banned them altogether for this reason. One way to deal with this problem is to tackle it head-on, bringing it out into the open in class discussion. How important is the "cool factor"? Do shoes really say anything about the person inside?

Another aspect for the personal and social education lesson is accusations that while trainers are designed in the rich West, they are produced under sweatshop conditions in the Third World. It is important for children to understand that there is more than one side to the issue.

The poor working conditions, starvation wages, and exploitation of many workers in the sports industry are well-documented.

In December 1995, Christian Aid published The Globe-Trotting Sports Shoe, a damning critique of the billion-pound profits made by big sports shoe brands on the backs of poorly-paid workers in Thailand, the Philippines and China.

Change is slow but the sports shoe industry has been forced to take the ethical issues on board because of pressure from consumers, says Bethan Brookes, co-author of the report.

Nike and Reebok appear to be taking the problem seriously. Both companies adopted codes of conduct to protect their factory workers abroad in 1992, and both have initiated projects to improve the education of children or factory workers.

Nike has terminated contracts with at least eight factories for failing to meet the code this year.

Bethan Brookes acknowledges the progress made in recent years but remains critical of some firms' monitoring systems, which she claims, are not really independent.

The Advertising Standards Authority has a series of specific rules relating to advertising and children. Training shoe manufacturers are careful not to breach them. But nobody can legislate against children's desire to wear cool trainers. However careful the manufacturer, their products are going to have a certain popularity.

The ASA says advertisers should not exploit children's credulity, vulnerability or lack of experience. Children "should not be made to feel inferior or unpopular for not buying the advertised product". They should not feel they are lacking "courage, duty or loyalty if they do not buy or encourage others to buy a particular product". Most important of all, advertisements should not "actively encourage children to make a nuisance of themselves to parents or others".

A group of nine to 16 year olds in the Midlands was asked about their taste in trainers. The younger the child, the less the brand name mattered; nine and 10 year olds didn't know what brand they owned, and didn't care. Fashion didn't matter with the 16-plus age range, either; but developing their own style did.

"We're not allowed platform trainers. They're supposed to be dangerous. But who'd wear them anyway? They're yesterday," one 16-year-old girl said.


For many children it is the maker's name on the trainer that matters - to wear the wrong shoes is to lose important peer-group credibility.

Just how big an issue this is varies with age group and with the importance of "street cred" in the particular local community.

One way for a teacher to deal with the fashion issue is to use role-play. Set up a "family" - adults, one or more children. Have an adult returning from the market, or from a local shop, with trainers that are serviceable but not of a well-known make.

Role-play the argument that ensues, so that children can see all sides of the issue - including the hard fact that there is a limited family budget, that has other calls and demands being made upon it.

It is quite possible that the session will wind up with no hard and fast conclusions having been made, but experience shows that children are actually more understanding of family finances than we give them credit for.


Schoolboy Graham Land survived an 11,000-volt shock thanks to his training shoes. Graham, 12, was sent sprawling backwards after he hammered a nail into a cable as he built a camp in a field while playing truant.

His mother Donna said: "Of course he should have been wearing his school shoes. But thank God he was wearing his favourite trainers with their rubber soles."

London Evening Standard, July 15, 1998

Smelly shoes could become a thing of the past because of an inventor's aversion to the stench from his grandsons' training shoes.

Peter Chown, 55, a professional inventor, has tested and patented a system that turns a shoe's heel cavity into a reservoir for deodorant. A valve inside the shoe is operated by the user's foot, and sucks up a tiny amount of the liquid with every step.

The Times, April 21, 1998

Bacteria and fungi are alive and well - and living in your trainers. Research reveals that training shoes are a breeding ground for germs.

Swabs taken from the shoes belonging to Thames Valley Harriers athletic club showed an amazing 10,000 bugs, compared with just 130 in a lavatory bowl.

The Mirror, July 15, 1997

Liverpool goalie David Jones jetted into Dublin and made the city a gift - of his old training shoes.

His tatty cast-offs will add to the 9,000 pairs collected in a recycling project. The shoes will be recycled into tiles which will then be used to resurface a basketball court at Fairview.

The Mirror, May 23, 1997

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