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From The Battlefield to the Runway : German Army Trainer

The Thread

Rudolf and Adolph Dassler, co-founders of the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory in Germany, saw a unique opportunity to use their families history of expert craftsmanship to make a mark in the world of athletics. Since the late 1920s, their innovative footwear and rugged designs had gained popularity throughout Germany. Having secured the use of their athletic shoes by German athletes during the 1936 Berlin games, Adolf Dassler aimed higher. He targeted Jesse Owens, presenting him with a special pair of athletic shoes featuring two leather strips on the sides and black spikes. Owens accepted the gift and wore the shoes during his stunning victories.

Dassler brothers – Courtesy of World Rugby Shop

By 1948, differences between Rudolf and Adolph Dassler led to a final falling-out, resulting in the creation of two separate companies: Adi founded Adidas, and Rudolf established Ruda, later renamed Puma. Armed with talent, vision, and determination, the brothers became fierce competitors and lifelong rivals.

Dassler brothers with their first customers – Reddit

By the 1970s, both Adidas and Puma had become dominant forces in the athletic gear industry. The West German Army’s need for a new type of training shoe for its half-million-strong force presented a lucrative opportunity for these rival companies. This period marked a significant chapter in their competitive history, intertwined with the contract to supply the German military.

The origins of the German Army Trainers (GATs) are not entirely clear, with both Adidas and Puma potentially involved. While Adidas has long claimed credit for the design and manufacture of the first GATs, evidenced by their “Federal Defense Sports Shoe” worn by German troops in the 1980s, the Bundeswehr Museum of Military History holds records indicating that Puma may have been the actual creator. This intriguing contradiction adds to the mystique of the GAT’s history. Despite the uncertainty, the GAT became obsolete following the Cold War’s end and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The original GAT closely resembled the spiked shoes Adolf Dassler had crafted for Jesse Owens, sans spikes.

Features of the shoe

The defining features of the German Army Trainer include gum rubber soles, supple leather, two stripes of leather overlaying the upper, and grey or off-white suede detailing over the toe-box. These elements combined to create a slender, aerodynamic silhouette ideal for the German Army. The unique pattern of circles and grids on the soles distinguished them from other trainers or sneakers.

The GAT’s minimal design, absence of branding, and sleek silhouette facilitated its transition from functional military footwear to a fashion icon. Today, countless variations of the German Army Trainer exist, all tracing their origins back to the original design that prioritized comfort, support, longevity, and economy.

The journey of the German Army Trainer from a practical piece of military gear to a celebrated fashion staple is a testament to its timeless design and enduring appeal.

Maison Margiela

In 1998, Maison Margiela founder Martin Margiela created the high fashion GAT. The Belgian designer’s usage of creatively recycling pre-existing items and elevating the mundane was central to his brand. The spring 1999 presentation of his “Artisanal” line, models wore BW-Sports, which Margiela had sourced from surplus shops, cleaned, and equipped with new insoles and laces.


Just a few years later, Margiela’s company began producing the their own version of the GAT. The new versions maintained the pragmatically anonymous shape of the BW-Sport but were crafted in increasingly elaborate and luxurious leathers and materials, including paint-splattered, fluorescent, and even straw-woven variations.

Ebay – @Urbanexcites

Other GAT Alternatives

  • Beckett Simonon
‘Morgen Trainers’ – Beckett Simonon
  • Epaulet
Epaulet –
  • Oliver Cabell
‘GAT’ – Oliver Cabell

The German Army Trainer (GAT) has had a crazy journey from its origins in a small German village to its role as a staple around the world. This iconic shoe, birthed from the rivalry between the Dassler brothers, embodies the spirit of innovation and competition that defined Adidas and Puma. The GAT’s minimalist design  and functional durability have allowed it to transcend its initial military purpose and achieve global recognition.

Written By Sammy Aronoff

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