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Going the extra mile
Celebrating 25 years in business this year is school bag supplier Marathon, which was taken over by new owners Janet and Sean Fay last year.

By Laura Turner

17 March 2014

When it comes to school uniform and accessories, products have to be of high quality if they are to withstand the daily rigours placed on them by pupils. Additionally, with the Prime Minister’s former policy chief Paul Kirby’s proposal for the General Election in 2015 that “from September 2016 all state-funded schools will, by law, provide 45 hours of education per week for 45 weeks of the year”, children could, potentially, be putting their school uniform through even more wear and tear. This would bring the issue of quality schoolwear even further to the fore and, subsequently, for suppliers of school bags, longer school days would see students carrying more belongings for longer lengths of time, seeing the need for quality, comfortable and back-healthy school bags needed more than ever before.
Even without the added hours of the proposed extending school days, I myself can vividly remember struggling at secondary school with a bag full of heavy books and the back pain that followed from carrying them daily. Nowadays, however, there are bags on the market that ensure back pain doesn’t need to be part of a school child’s daily life, with one such supplier being Marathon.
Marathon has been supplying schoolbags to thousands of schools in the UK for 25 years, providing a wide range of durable products that are both comfortable and practical to use as well as gentle on growing bodies. The company was established in Staines in 1989, founded by an Australian family that also owned Spartan, a leading school bag supplier in Australia. As the business grew, it moved from Staines, first to Chertsey and then to Weybridge, where it has remained at its current, purpose-built factory in Brooklands, since December 2008.
In September 2013, the company was bought by Surrey couple Janet and Sean Fay, who were more than familiar with the Marathon brand, having been loyal customers of its products for many years. The addition of the Fays sees new blood brought to the business, complemented by the strong foundation of the existing management team, which continues to run the company, headed by Nina Cassidy who, together with other key team members, has been managing the firm since 2009.

Much has happened since the launch in 1989, with the business evolving considerably over the years. In terms of product, Marathon designs its own, made exclusively by the company’s factories and printed at its facility in Weybridge. The product offer, which covers school bags and also accessories such as hats, pencil cases, water bottles and art smocks, is broad. It offers two ranges of school bags – The Performance Range and The Attitude Range – both of which encompass the full spectrum of school bag requirements, from nursery through to sixth form students, including back packs, book bags and sports bags. The Performance Range, as the name suggests, is Marathon’s premium line of bags, all designed with performance in mind in terms of quality, durability, design features and aesthetics. The Attitude Range, meanwhile, caters for the more budget conscious, but maintains the supplier’s standards in terms of quality, manufacture and design.  

With regards to the aforementioned features, ergonomic design is key, with all Marathon’s products ergonomically created following years of research in association with leading academic, chiropractic and physiotherapy institutions. The product offer also includes two bags endorsed on the UK market to help support children’s backs and minimise back problems. The ChiroPak is proven to reduce the incidence and severity of neck and back pain associated with the carriage of heavy loads such as school books and laptops, therefore best suited to teenagers, and is endorsed by the Chiropractors Association of Australia (CAA). The design of the bag was developed hand-in-hand with the CAA, Macquarie University, and Spartan/Marathon. Research by the University proved that wearing the bag correctly reduces the incidences and severity of neck and back pain, with the CAA endorsing the bag on this basis. The PhysioPak III, meanwhile, caters for younger children and is proven to minimise harmful postural response and significantly reduces associated back pain, neck pain and minor spinal injury. It is endorsed by the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA), and was designed jointly with the APA and the University of South Australia.
Other core products, alongside the endorsed bags, include the LitePak, a backpack with an ergonomic design that shares many of the same back-care features of the ChiroPak and PhysioPak III, and is available in three different sizes and multiple colours. The supplier’s signature sports bag – the Olympic – is another bestseller, offering a classic design tailored to accommodate sports kits but still fits into school lockers. Key styles within the accessory bags are the Book Folio and Marathon’s boot/swim bag.
Another USP of Marathon is its warranty – the supplier offers either a three-year or one-year warranty against faulty workmanship on all of its non-accessory bags. It also holds stock in its Surrey warehouse, prints to order on-site – keeping the delivery time from order to delivery as short as possible – and offers in-house artwork design and printing, including screen printing, heat transfer and embroidery.
Although the schools sector is a marketplace with which the business is more than familiar, with Marathon building up a loyal customer base over the years, the company made the decision to make its Schoolwear Show debut in October 2013. This was part of a marketing and brand awareness activity, with the exercise allowing the business to successfully market the Marathon brand more widely.

Going forward, in addition to several product upgrades and improvements scheduled for later in the year, the company aims to continue growing and expanding its customer base, product range, and broadening the recognition of the Marathon brand while remaining a UK, family owned and run business. Part of its strategy includes launching a new website, with Marathon having appointed a web designer, which it is currently working with to refine specifications. The supplier’s intention and brief is that the new website will be dynamic and relevant to the brand, providing customers with a much more user-friendly tool, with the first phase of the relaunch scheduled for spring. Additionally, Marathon will be working on marketing activities, events, and offers throughout the year to mark its quarter-century anniversary, so watch this space...


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