Ben Pruess is not your typical apparel executive.
A former professional snowboarder, Pruess, 41, was the catalyst behind the launch of Under Armour Sportswear (UAS), a new collection of apparel, footwear and accessories that marries the brand’s expertise in performance with fashion-forward silhouettes and designs.
The line, which is designed by Tim Coppens, launched during New York Fashion Week last September and catapulted the Baltimore-based activewear brand out of its comfort zone in sports and squarely into the middle of the fashion arena. It’s a sector that Under Armour founder and chief executive officer Kevin Plank views as increasingly important to the company, which has been struggling over the last few quarters as growth in its core categories has slowed.
Pruess’ journey to his current role as president of sport fashion at Under Armour is an eclectic one.
Raised in and around New York City where he developed an appreciation of arts and culture — and a love for skateboarding — Pruess left the confines of the city at a young age to move to Lake Placid, N.Y., to attend farm school. This city kid was soon getting up at 5 a.m. to milk cows and learned to work with his hands. “It’s that kind of yin and yang that has influenced my life,” he said with a laugh. “It’s nice to have both elements because neither satisfies me completely.”
He moved to Aspen, Colo., for high school, where he honed his skills in the burgeoning sport of snowboarding and soon found himself competing as a professional on the World Cup circuit as a teenager. In that pre-cellphone and Internet world, Pruess had to quickly acquire “personal accountability” skills, which turned out to be invaluable in his business career.
His transition out of sports came when Salomon approached him to join the brand to build its snowboarding business. When Adidas bought Salomon in 1997, the German company lured Pruess to the Adidas Originals label, which he helped grow from $600 million to $2.5 billion in sales over the course of his seven-year career. Feeling that his work there was done, Pruess left and did a few other things before retiring to Venice Beach, Calif. It was there that he got the call from Plank about helping Under Armour make the bold move getting into sports fashion.
He agreed to come on board and turned to his former Adidas colleague — and fellow snowboarder — Coppens to design the collection.
Together they created a line of “modern American sportswear” for men and women that aims to blend sport fashion and high fashion. Barneys New York and Mr Porter were the first to retail the collection, along with Under Armour’s flagships in key cities.
UAS’ entry into the category “was unique and additive to the market,” Pruess believes, and while he knows there’s a learning curve with all new brands, the initial reaction to the line has been encouraging.
With the blessing of the Under Armour brass, the go-forward plan is a global rollout for the third season with an eye toward expansion in Europe and Asia.
And while his short stint in retirement was liberating, there are no plans for him to kick up his feet on a beach again anytime soon.
Knowing Under Armour is still the “underdog” compared with Adidas Originals and Nike Sportswear, Pruess said, “I won’t get back into retirement mode until the job is done.”