Under Armour grows presence within the WNBA with new sneakers - Sports Illustrated

Under Armour Delivers ‘Breakthru’ As Footprint in Women’s Sports Grows

Under Armour released its first performance basketball sneaker developed specifically for the female athlete. Sports Illustrated goes behind the design.
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Compliments started rolling in for rookie Bella Alarie on Dallas Wings media day.

Between questions about the upcoming WNBA season, the No. 5 draft pick standout was drawing attention from teammates to her feet. Alarie, a newly signed Under Armour athlete, was sporting a customized pink colorway of the UA HOVR Breakthru—the brand’s new basketball shoe, named appropriately for its impact on and off the court.

On Sept. 17, Under Armour released the shoe, its first performance basketball sneaker developed specifically for the female athlete and designed by women. The landmark sneaker is part of UA’s commitment to deepen its investment in women’s sports with an eye on growing and supporting female athletics.

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The HOVR Breakthru was designed from the outset to benefit the female athlete and her unique movement in the women’s game. The shoe’s narrower ankle and heel, a women-specific arch shape and shallow instep are a few of the technical aspects that tailor it to women and stand out on the hardwood.

“I have worn other Under Armour shoes, but these are really comfortable around the ankle and heels,” Alarie said. “[They are] made specifically for a woman’s foot.”

While Under Armour has offered basketball shoes, such as the Havoc, in women’s sizes in the past, the HOVR Breakthru is the first specifically designed for female athletes that features a women's last—a mechanical mold used to create the shoe’s shape. With the newly crafted last providing an updated profile based on foot shape, structure, movement and pressure points, UA added its responsive HOVR cushioning foam, patterned rubber outsole and a mesh upper. The combination of a custom foot shape, comfort and support create an optimal foundation for running, cutting, jumping, landing, lunging and pivoting in tune with the demands and agility of the women’s game.

Sasha Chaplin, an associate product line footwear manager with UA, was part of an all-female team of designers behind the development of the HOVR Breakthru. A former basketball player herself, Chaplin said the group recognized the potential a new performance women’s basketball shoe could have in the female sports market. With women’s basketball growing around the world, it was up to Under Armour to focus on the consumer to create the best possible product.

“[We fed] off of each other’s energy and passion in the shoes,” Chaplin says. “There is nothing [better] than seeing a group of women come together making a product with the female athlete in mind.”

Building on its backbone of female designers and its new product, Under Armour began to grow its presence within the WNBA by signing forward Alarie, Wings teammate Tyasha Harris and Connecticut Sun guard Kaila Charles in July. The rookie trio have become new faces of the Under Armour brand and are actively involved in the company’s efforts in women’s sports, each wearing the HOVR Breakthru during the WNBA season and providing feedback to the design team on their experiences.

In deciding to sign with Under Armour, Alarie said the company’s commitment to growing women’s sports stood out.

“[It] was extremely important to me, I have always been big on gender equality,” Alarie says. “They are trying to trailblaze women’s basketball in their brand ... signing women’s basketball players. It was really important in my decision.”

The multiyear signings of Alarie, Harris and Charles are part of the collaboration that played a key role in Under Armour’s planning and tweaking of the HOVR Breakthru. Chaplin tabbed focus groups in high school and college programs to help provide feedback in the building stages of the shoe, while the Chinese national women’s 3x3 team also gave insights on what their priorities were for a shoe to elevate their game.

“We really honed in on the athlete currently playing today,” Chaplin says. “[We wanted to] tap into current hoopers right now, their playing style, what they look for in a shoe. ... With that feedback, we really honed in on style, comfort, and just being able to have the bright colors to express themselves.”

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Through outreach and consultation with female athletes and its WNBA signees, Under Armour found it a priority to allow players the freedom to express their style and personality through the HOVR Breakthru. UA wanted to create a shoe with a silhouette that varied from a men’s profile while providing further meaning for players through unique colorways—including the company’s signature bold red, Beta.

“[We wanted to] make sure the design would stand out in any color opportunity,” Chaplin says. “Having bright, energetic colors is something for players look forward to. ... [The shoes] allow them to showcase style and personality on the court in a team sport.”

With its investment in female athletics, Under Armour has begun to deepen its commitment and efforts to promote the journey of women on and off the court, field and turf. The HOVR Breakthru is just what its name represents—a step forward in women’s sports performance gear, with players such as Alarie, Harris and Charles providing valuable insight and representation as new faces and voices of the brand.

Through research, developmental collaboration and player outreach, Under Armour is starting to grow its footprint in women’s sports and promote the game and expression of female athletes in a meaningful way.

“This is a stepping stone,” Chaplin says. “One of many innovations UA has planned to keep growing the women’s game.”