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NEW YORK — Personal trainers and yoga instructors are beginning to look like race car drivers and tennis players: Their clothes are like billboards.

This story first appeared in the March 27, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

A growing number of athletic labels are “seeding” their activewear on fitness instructors and personal trainers with the hope that their students will take note during their workouts. Some brands give away the merchandise and others offer substantial discounts.

“The general population aspires to be like the athletes they watch on TV,” said Ryan Wood, vice president of sales for Under Armour. “But there are a lot more people working out than playing in the NBA. The sheer volume of people exercising is a great opportunity.”

Earlier this month, the Baltimore-based company signed a deal with 24 Hour Fitness, a health club chain with more than 600 locations, to give their 4,500 personal trainers and certified instructors a 25 percent discount on all purchases. In January, Under Armour set up a Fitness Professional network within its sales division to target the 250 groups that represent this country’s estimated 300,000 certified fitness instructors and professional trainers. Under Armour expects its new alliance with 24 Hour Fitness to help propel total annual sales by $100 million, Wood said.

Everlast Worldwide is now providing boxing equipment to Crunch Fitness and sponsoring the new “Fight Club” boxing class, which culminates with monthly sparing contests. Former heavyweights Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney were on hand for the first round of finals March 18 at the Kips Bay club. As part of the deal, Everlast is also selling its merchandise at that location.

But the athletic brand is also showing off its softer side. To complement its new, airy, three-floor location at 125 Fourth Street in Manhattan, Stone Spa plans to suit up its 35 staff members in Everlast yogawear beginning in May. The fresh look is in line with the spa’s earth tone interiors and outdoor garden, said Carla Ciuffo, owner.

The site’s 40 daily visitors will be checking out Everlast pants with drawstring waistbands, T-shirts with three-quarter-length sleeves and jackets in sand, pearl, carob and other soft shades.

For the 2002-2003 ski season, Prada added the San Sicario Action School to its list of professional trainers that it outfits.

“The daily activities of ski instructors, trainers and sailors are important for us to test the products,” a Prada spokeswoman said. “This allows Prada to offer athletes and the sports-minded the highest level of durability and quality.”

Reebok International is making a push to place more product four times a year on “more than a few hundred” top trainers, fitness instructors and nutritionists who work with entertainers and influential trendsetters on both coasts, said Jan Sharkansky, vice president and general manager of Reebok women’s.

“We’re reaching out beyond their agents and public relations people,” she said. “Visibility is the key. There are key people who believe in the product and want to wear the product, and we want them to be seen in our product.”

Reebok is now doing the same with more contemporary classes like pilates, yoga and gyrotonics. Reebok is dressing staffers at different locations of The Sports Club/L.A., including the New York-based The Reebok Sports Club L.A. The brand has renewed its commitment to Reebok University, which doles out discounts for apparel to more than 40,000 fitness professionals.

Plus One Fitness, a Manhattan-based operation that offers on-site personal training at 37 corporations and hotels, is talking to Reebok about using its apparel on its trainers and expects to reach a decision soon, said Michael Masters, director of operations for Plus One. For more than five years, Plus One trainers have worn Nike warmups even though there is no contractual agreement with the firm.

“Their image has worked for us,” Masters said. “We like the image associated with the brand, but we’re not locked into them.”

The Weekend Exercise Co. has developed a program with Exhale, a mind-body spa on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to outfit employees in its new Shiva Shakti collection and to sell the collection in the boutique.

Norm Zwail, president and chief executive officer of The Weekend Exercise Co., said, “One thing I’ve found is that grassroots-type seeding is most effective in reaching customers.”