Under Armour: From the sports tunnel to the fashion runway
Think of it as an additional gameplan for Under Armour, moving beyond sports performance and into fashion. And we’re talking legitimate fashion, the kind Under Armour will unveil with a runway show in mid-September during New York’s Fashion Week.
“We have to look at ways athletes and consumers are dressing today and incorporating sports and sportswear into everyday life,” Ben Pruess, Under Armour president of sports fashion, tells SI.com. “It is a continuum.”
As Baltimore-based Under Armour continues to build its brand well beyond compression baselayers, a growing sneaker business, mega-deal NCAA sponsorships and sports apparel for a wide range of activities, Pruess says fashion that meets folks “where they want to shop and how they want to dress” means entering an entirely new realm. So Under Armour devised an entirely new division. Not a category or a collection, but a full division.
“When we do something we do it serious, we do it right, we do it empowered,” he says. “Every time we have gone into a space we believe is essential to the long-term success of the brand we have put resources behind it.”
The Under Armour sports fashion division comes multi-tiered with Under Armour Sportswear (UAS) the “most ambitious” and furthest from what you’d expect from the sportswear brand.
“We put a flag on the other end of the field to show what Under Armour can be in its fullest expression of fashion,” Pruess says. “Fast, modern functionality with a respect for the classic in this ambitious generation.”
Along with UAS, expect more to come, such as a youth-oriented sneaker-driven collection to serve the likes of Footlocker. Already the introduction of the Curry Lux in the Stephen Curry signature sneaker line hints at the sneaker-driven collection we’ll see launch in less than two years.
But getting UAS up and running was the first step, putting it on the same operating rhythm as any contemporary fashion brand with this initial fall-winter collection now announced and set for a full Fashion Week unveil followed with a spring-summer 2017 delivery. Pruess says UAS will continue to release seasonally, but they will also sprinkle in some well-timed releases throughout the season because they can.
“This is not one and done, we have a long-term commitment to fill a space for those we don’t think have wardrobe choices they are looking for,” Pruess says. “Then we will introduce in the sneaker world. There are other elements we will get to in out years, but these first two will really keep us busy.”
But what does UAS have to do with UA? “We do talk about this idea of forged from the field, built for life,” Pruess says. “On the outside it needs to respect and represent tastes and trends and fashion norms of the consumer. Outwardly we don’t scream some sort of signifier that it is Under Armour. Where you feel it, where you see it, is much more internally, up close with the fit, the four-way stretch, the climate elements, moisture management, moisture wicking, coatings.”
Pruess uses the example of a wool suit. A UAS version would have stretch, an active cut and a coating that helps it deal with elements. “The suit has articulation and an active cut, it creates a look very contemporary and very on trend,” he says. “But it moves with you in ways other suits wouldn’t.”
By hiring well-known fashion designer Tim Coppens to lead the UAS effort, Under Armour says they plan to reach an entire element of consumers not familiar with the brand while giving brand loyalists a new way to experience the product. One consumer may want to wear Under Armour, but not feel like they are wearing what they would at the gym. They simply want Under Armour packed in a fashion context. On the other side is a consumer looking for fashion in places Under Armour doesn’t currently live, such as Barney’s. “They are interested in high design, high innovation, high tailoring, great storytelling and will be pleasantly surprised to see a new brand,” Pruess says. “They get to relate to (UAS) as an entirely new fashion brand and already know Tim Coppens’ name and his unique pedigree.”
From the outset, Under Armour has put an equal effort on designing for both men and women. The fall/winter 2016 collection includes a Draftday Tailored Sportcoat ($449) and Transparent Parka ($349) on the high end right down to a Draftday Oxford ($129), Formation Legging ($179) and Transition Vest ($199). Also expect a Fat Tire Boot ($219).
As Under Armour continues to grow, Pruess says connecting with consumers to the fullest extent demands they find ways to be with them off the field and in their daily lives. “There is an expectation to meet them where they want to shop and how they want to dress,” he says.
UAS will start on the New York City runway in September and then move into fashion boutiques, but Under Armour sports fashion won’t stay there for long.
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.