Under Armour is growing into one of the world's top footwear and apparel giants. And as it celebrates its 20th birthday it's gaining ground on powerhouses Nike and adidas.
Under Armour was officially founded in 1996 by former University of Maryland walk-on Kevin Plank. The founder could hardly imagine where his company would be 20 years later.
In late July, Under Armour hosted an event in New York to celebrate its second decade in business. And it felt like a hyper kid's fever dream. Assorted Dubstep and rap remixes pounded in the background while people stood a couple feet away from each other in an attempt at conversation.
A massive rack of shoes hung from the wall, profiling everything from Steph Curry's newest sneakers to the original basketball shoe Under Armour designed for Brandon Jennings. Bryce Harper’s newest spikes and cleats that Tom Brady and Cam Newton use to tear apart opposing defenses were also prominently featured.
None of that is to mention the various uniforms on display and the snapshots of moments that Under Armour has been a part of.
The company may have been around since 1996, but January 10, 2011, is the day that the brand was truly born in the eyes of many fans.
That night, Oregon — owner of fluorescent uniforms that have been known to distract pilots as they pass above Autzen Stadium in Eugene — played Auburn and Under Armour cover boy Newton for the BCS national championship.
It was also when Under Armour took its first shot at Nike.
Newton and the War Eagles ultimately won and brought millions of eyes to Under Armour, and Under Armour managed to break Twitter with all the feuds over the apparel. Before that game — now known as the Apparel Battle — Under Armour was just a clothing company with funky designs. Afterwards, the company had a different rep.
"That one night and that one moment in time, it was like lightning in a bottle," says Adam Clement, senior creative director of Under Armour. "The only game on TV and a come-from-behind victory in dramatic fashion, everybody was talking about it and it changed everything for us."
Five years later, Under Armour isn't the same company it was when Maryland and Auburn were their main attractions.
Today, some of the best players of their generation are part of the Under Armour family. Curry, Harper, Brady, Lindsey Vonn, and Jordan Spieth all proudly wear the unique insignia on their gear — no wacky colorways or designs necessary.
Given the company’s presence today, it's strange to think that they only ventured into footwear 10 years ago. But they've come quite far from when Jenning's first released the Micro G "Black Ice" back in 2010.
"I think there’s two parts to it: the technology side and the basic side,” Clement says. "And on top of that, visually and aesthetically we’re changing the game."
The Chicago Bulls' new guard Jerian Grant knows that all too well. He's been wearing Under Armour since his time at Notre Dame, and he chose to stay with the company once he reached the pros for one reason.
"It’s the comfort," Grant says. "And it’s a very friendly environment. They treat everyone like they’re part of the family."
That's quite an endorsement in an era in which every company from Nike to Sketchers is obsessed with comfort. Somewhere Plank is smiling.
As it enters its third decade, Under Armour has quite a bit going for them. The brand's innovation labs are the envy of many in the industry, while the mysterious "Lighthouse" facility they recently unveiled looks to bring cutting edge technology to their production.
And let’s not forget that the company has indisputably some of the most marketable athletes in each of the top sports. Newton and Curry embrace marketing more than any athletes in recent memory. Harper and his desperate campaign to make baseball fun again is fascinating television. And Spieth’s rapid rise to success is drawing eyes back to golf.
With this run of success, it’s no wonder everything Under Armour does feels like a massive celebration —and everyone wants to party like it’s 1996.
Photos: Under Armour