The foundation of Under Armour’s business is innovation, and developing new products and embracing new platforms continue to drive the company’s growth nearly 20 years later.
This story first appeared in the April 2, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“We’re just getting started,” said Glenn Silbert, senior vice president of men’s and youth apparel and accessories. “This is chapter one of a very compelling story and the opportunities are endless.”
Since Under Armour founder Kevin Plank invented a compression-fitting, wicking alternative to the cotton T-shirt for male athletes in 1996, the company has grown into a more than $3 billion brand that has expanded into a range of categories, including footwear, women’s wear, children’s wear and even men’s sportswear. It has also branched out internationally and, more recently, has embraced the whole concept of “connected fitness,” with acquisitions such as MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun.
Silbert said Under Armour’s focus on the athlete continues and drives the company to new heights to meet constantly changing needs. “We live and breathe competition and that’s what makes us better,” he said, calling the brand “loud, bold and fearless. It’s our culture and it’s what defines us.”
He said that first white T-shirt “created a movement — the idea that apparel could really improve your performance. Others have followed, and today, an entire category exists.”
Calling it the “new normal in athleticwear,” Silbert said athletes today “think very differently about what they put on their bodies.”
And so while Under Armour never loses sight of where it started, “we lead the brand with the idea that what got us here is not even close to where we need to go. Kevin [Plank] says we’re a new brand every six months. We’re still grounded in who we are, but we’re constantly changing.
“Trends and movements will come and go,” Silbert added, “but because of the filter of performance and innovation, we will continue to lead this conversation. For us it’s all about the athlete and the athlete demands more and more every day. It’s about this authentic relationship that allows us to anticipate their ever-evolving needs. We like to say, beware of imposters. Designing cool-looking stuff isn’t hard, it’s much harder to design product that truly makes you better.”
Among the company’s most recent offerings that fit that bill are the SpeedForm running shoe, which was manufactured in a bra factory instead of a footwear facility. “Why?” he asked, “Because people who make bras know how to focus on fit.”
But perhaps the most promising category is connected fitness, Silbert said.
“Five years ago, if I would have told you we’re going to make a T-shirt that regulates your core body temperature, measures your heart rate and tracks your workouts all at the same time, you probably would have called me crazy,” Silbert said. “We don’t think so.”
Although Under Armour continues to be focused on giving athletes the tools to improve their performance during competition, “what about after the game?” Silbert asked. Introducing products and tools that shorten the recovery time “will unlock an athlete’s true potential,” he said.
Silbert likened it to a car, saying immediately upon turning on the engine, the driver knows everything about the vehicle: whether it needs gas, service, the tire pressure, etc. “But we know nothing about our bodies. That’s not acceptable.” But connected fitness can change that. “There’s life before and after competition,” he said. “I don’t want to call this lifestyle, I want to call this life and our athletes are inviting us into the space.” From its performance chinos to its new mobile apps, Under Armour looks to these “game changers” to continue to move forward.
Silbert said over the past 1.5 years, the company has focused on “informational armour.” The company now has more than 400 employees dedicated to this area and has “built a community of over 137 million active users.” There are only five apps in the market today that can boast more than 500 million users, he said, and “they’re all in the social space — nobody is doing it in fitness space.” But providing users with a combination of content, product and information “is going to unlock a whole new world for this space.
“While we’re in the business of making shirts and shoes — and that will continue to be our core — it’s this relentless focus on innovation and pushing the boundaries of what is possible that will drive us and allow us to define what the future looks like,” he concluded.