NEW YORK — Under Armour is accelerating its efforts to attract the female athlete.
In a return to in-person events, the Baltimore-based sports brand hosted a two-day event in the Meatpacking District in New York City for a group of media, influencers and athletes — all women — as it sought to further shine a light on product and marketing initiatives specifically focused on females.
The event was centered around next week’s launch of the UA Flow Synchronicity, a new running shoe designed by women specifically for women.
Lisa Collier, chief product officer for Under Armour, explained that traditional women’s running shoes are created from a men’s last, just made smaller to fit the female foot. That means they often lack the flexibility, fit, and arch support women need.
Enter the Flow Synchronicity.
“We’re trying to understand the unique needs of our female athletes,” Collier said, “and how we can service them and make them better, which is Under Armour’s mission. We can’t just shrink it and pink it. There was a time in our history when we did that.”
But now the company is doubling down by researching female-specific anatomy, fluctuations in women’s cycles and issues that impact how they perform.
For the Flow Synchronicity, the team integrated data and consumer insights from women who ran in a series of prototypes and homed in on three key areas: the heel, the arch and the midfoot height. They studied 3D scans to better understand the anatomy of the female foot along with biomechanics, foot shape and proportions.
The Flow Synchronicity secures the heel and supports the arch better than shoes built from a men’s model, according to the company. It also features a knit upper, no rubber outsole or heavy adhesives, features that also speak to the brand’s efforts toward becoming more sustainable and serve to make the shoe lighter. Collier said that the materials used in the shoe can eventually be ground down and recycled for use in other products in the future.
The Flow Synchronicity will launch globally on June 9 and retail for $140 at Under Armour stores, online and in select sporting goods and running specialty stores.
This women’s-specific running shoe will also serve as a model for other footwear, Collier said, specifically cleats for football and other sports. She noted that the recently introduced Flow Breakthru2 basketball shoe, designed specifically for women, has completely sold out at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
While not every product needs to be women’s-specific, Collier said, others need to be changed in order to better address females and their specific needs. She provided an example of women softball players who actually said they preferred to use a men’s baseball glove because it had a larger pocket. “Women don’t always want something different, but sometimes they do,” she said.
With all women’s-specific product — apparel as well as footwear — style is also a key component, Collier said. “She wants to look good, fit and proud,” she said. “So it’s very important that performance and style come together.”
From an apparel perspective, “we’ve got to win in bras and leggings,” she said. Around two years ago, the company introduced its Infinity Bra that is padless and takes breast movement into account rather than just providing a “lockdown” of all motion, she said.
Under Armour is also highlighting women’s layering pieces such as lightweight jackets and fleeces as “outfit completers,” she said. And recovery is also a focus, she said. “Recover is an important part of opportunity to grow and expand in the women’s space,” she said.
Under Armour Recover as well as Rush products are created from mineral-infused fabrics that are intended to reflect energy back to muscles so they feel less fatigued and recover faster.
Looking forward, Collier said there are other “unique things coming in the space” that will address specific needs for products specifically geared toward competition.
Over the last two years, Under Armour has also been marketing more directly to females, Collier said and leaning into its athlete roster — 40 percent of which are women — to tell their stories. That includes their lessons learned when competing as well as their recovery efforts. “No athlete performs 24 hours a day,” she said, “so we want to show the whole scope of their lives, even when they’re not working out.”
This is not the first time Under Armour has looked to further its appeal to women. As far back as 2014, the company said it believed womenswear could eventually be as big, or bigger than men’s. Right now, women’s accounts for 25 percent of overall sales, which hit $5.7 billion last year.
But Under Armour is certainly not alone in its quest to appeal to females. All of the major sports brands including Nike, Adidas, Puma and others have been focusing more on women’s-specific products. Lululemon, which is especially popular among females shopping for activewear, also recently introduced a running shoe specifically geared to women with other models on tap for this year. Nike remains the largest sports brand for females with sales in footwear and apparel of $8.5 billion in fiscal year 2021.
Collier acknowledged: “We’re constantly looking at the competition and respect what they are doing in the space.” But she believes Under Armour can continue to make strides by continuing to enhance its focus on women’s-specific product.
The event this week in New York, which was called UA Pursuit, also included panels on understanding the female body and how to take the menstrual cycle into consideration when training and competing, a session on mental training for female athletes, and workouts with Olympic athletes including Natasha Hastings.
Under Armour has experienced its share of challenges over the past few years. In mid-May, it revealed that its chief executive officer, Patrik Frisk, who had been in that post only two years, was stepping down and a search for his successor is underway. Frisk joined the company in 2017 as president and chief operating officer when the company was faltering both in terms of sales as well as with scandals ranging from strip-club visits to Securities and Exchange Commission investigations.
The Swedish-born executive, who had served as CEO of Aldo Group and also had experience working in the outdoor and active sports arena with a résumé that included top jobs at The North Face, Timberland and Vans, instituted a $200 million, five-year turnaround plan with a focus on bringing Under Armour back to its roots as a sports brand. He eliminated 2,500 wholesale accounts in North America, parted ways with many of the company’s long-tenured executives and doubled down on sports apparel, accessories and footwear rather than lifestyle apparel.
Results began to improve, with the company reporting net income above expectations in the fourth quarter and year in 2021. But in a transitional quarter that the company reported in early May, results came in below estimates with net losses for the period ended March 31 of $59.6 million, or 13 cents a diluted share, compared with earnings of $77.8 million, or 17 cents, a year earlier.