As Under Armour continues to struggle with a less-than-stellar sales performance, the Baltimore-based activewear brand is shaking up its approach to high-end fashion.
On Thursday the company will reveal that Ben Pruess, its president of sports fashion and architect of the UAS collection, is leaving the brand.
Pruess, a one-time professional snowboarder who spent seven years as global vice president at Adidas Originals and also worked for Salomon and Bonfire Snowboard, joined Under Armour about two years ago to launch UAS. The line was billed as a modern American sportswear collection that blended performance features with fashion-forward silhouettes and was created by Tim Coppens. The spring collection that will hit stores early next year will be the last one that Coppens will design. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Beyond that, an Under Armour spokesman said, the company will seek to work with a rotating group of collaborators such as A$AP Rocky, whose collection for the brand is expected to be released sometime next year.
The first UAS collection was 110 pieces for men and women and included a men’s suit fully knit from a four-way stretch wool and viscose blend, rugby pants with articulated seams and an athletic fit and a transparent parka with taped seams. The women’s collection offered BMX-inspired rugby pants, leggings in a cotton twill compression fabric and a trenchcoat in tricot wool with a water-resistant finish.
Prices were much higher than those in the core Under Armour collection, retailing for $129 to $299, with one jacket selling for $1,500. It was sold at Barneys New York, Mr Porter and Under Armour’s flagship stores. The collection represents less than 10 percent of the firm’s overall sales.
The news of the rejiggering of UAS comes at a time when Kevin Plank and Under Armour have been shining more of a spotlight on fashion as its core categories have slowed.
Last month, the company confirmed that it had inked what is believed to be a seven-figure “multifaceted strategic partnership” with rap artist A$AP Rocky that will involve the creation of a new collection. The line will be housed under the UAS umbrella.
The UA spokesman said that Kevin Eskridge, the company’s chief product officer, will assume responsibility for UAS on an interim basis. “Ben has been a great leader for our business and we thank him for his dedication and creativity,” he said of Pruess.
The departure of Pruess and the severing of ties with Coppens are Under Armour’s way of “level-setting this business,” the spokesman added. “Sportstyle product will live across the categories, allowing for individual expression in women’s, running, basketball, for instance. Separately, Under Armour Sportstyle is the pinnacle expression of Sportstyle products, created through collaborations with select artists, designers and influencers. Accordingly, Tim Coppens’ next UAS line will be his spring collection, followed by UAS by A$AP Rocky and so on and so forth. This approach will allow us the necessary freedom to dial in unique cultural and personality interpretations and keep us unique and fresh in the marketplace.”
He declined to provide details on how the Coppens-designed UAS collection performed at retail, saying the change is not about “performance to date” but is intended to “open the door to more collaborations” in the future. “We’re looking for varied expression in that space to appeal to a variety of consumers,” he said.
Still, the change comes as Under Armour continues to lose ground against Nike and a newly revived Adidas, and as hot streetwear brands like Supreme generate buzz — and sales — by organizing regular product “drops” that quickly sell out.
On Tuesday morning, Under Armour Inc. reported that its sales declined for the first time during the third quarter as the company’s turnaround efforts have yet to take hold. The news sent the firm’s shares tumbling on Wall Street.
The athleticwear brand has seen sales growth slow steadily since late 2015, but for the quarter ended Sept. 30, Under Armour’s revenue fell by 5 percent year-over-year to $1.4 billion. This includes a 13 percent drop in wholesale sales and a 15 percent increase in direct-to-consumer sales, along with a 33.6 percent increase in international sales.
Shares of the athleticwear brand fell 23.7 percent, hitting an all-time low of $12.52. A year ago, Under Armour was trading at $31.10, but its high of $120.16 came in March 2014.
Profits took a hit as well during the quarter, with net income totaling $54.2 million, compared with $128.2 million a year ago. Profits were partially impacted by $89 million in costs related to Under Armour’s restructuring plan, launched in August, aimed at giving the company more financial and operational flexibility.
The positive impact of that plan couldn’t be seen in the third-quarter results, and Plank didn’t back away from his company’s poor performance during a call with Wall Street analysts. He said “we understand the issues that put us in this position,” adding that he’s working proactively to “move the company forward.”
“In 2017, our equilibrium has been out of sync with our long-term expectations, we’ve not performed at the level we originally aspired to,” Plank said. “Some of this imbalance has been due to things in our control like product, consumer connectivity and structural changes, and some things out of our control, like the macro environment and shifting consumer behavior.”
Plank went on to characterize this year as “a reset” for the company — which posted quarterly growth of more than 20 percent for more than six years starting in 2010 — and alluded to “growing pains” and upcoming changes for Under Armour as “a brand, company and culture” given the problems it’s experiencing related to its fast growth in a time of rapid change in retail.
Chief operations officer Patrik Frisk, who joined Under Armour over the summer, said during the same call that Under Armour has “absolute clarity around the challenges impacting the company, the related root causes and the steps necessary to address them.”
“It’s a new time, and a new time requires a new playbook and that’s one of the reasons I’m here,” Frisk said. “And what I see here is an incredible team, a team that’s used to winning. And I also see an incredible brand, a brand that’s winning, but one that is not fully optimizing its strength or potential.”
Frisk went on to point out Under Armour’s inconsistency over the last few years in delivering on its promise of performance.
“That inconsistency stops now,” he said. Going forward, you will see us accelerate our purpose as a performance brand by doubling down on our innovation and creating even deeper connections with our consumers, underscoring how Under Armour makes you better.”
But in the meantime, retail conditions in North America, including bankruptcies and foot traffic declines, are expected to remain difficult for Under Armour “well into next year,” Plank said.
He added that the company is “assessing” its entire wholesale distribution model, as well as its direct-to-consumer business and its production infrastructure, which he noted is “built for a much bigger company than we currently are.”
Under Armour is in the midst of creating a “disciplined go-to-market strategy” that will drive consistency with product and demand and fulfill a goal of “creating a more predictable pull model capable of delivering financial flexibility back into the business.”
“Again, we are incredibly disappointed with our 2017 performance,” Plank said. “Yet, given the uneven choppy environment in North America, as a $5 billion company with the scale, resources and conviction to get through it, we know who we are, how we got here and are confident in our path forward. Our eyes are wide open, and we’re well-invested in the strategies that will leverage our strengths to emerge stronger, faster and leaner. But this will take some time.”
Frisk set a time frame for Under Armour’s turnaround of two years.
With that, Under Armour lowered its guidance again for the full year. Net revenue is now expected to be up only at a “low single-digit percentage rate,” and operating income is projected to come in between $0 and $10 million.