NEW YORK, United States – Under Armour Inc. already makes skintight compression leggings, water-repellent sweatshirts, and not-quite-cool sneakers. The next step, of course, has to be a high-end fashion line.
The fashion show at New York Fashion Week that introduced Under Armour's fancy side ditched the chipper pop-culture mentality typical of American fashion brands. Instead, the athletic apparel maker opted to go with a grungy, underground look bolstered by models striding down a concrete runway to music with a relentlessly thumping bass line. Once the building stopped rumbling, New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, an Under Armour athlete, posed for photos in front of the clothes.
The clothes were wild, nothing like the typical "athleisure" looks that have sent sporty clothes into casual wardrobes. Under Armour has blasts of neon orange splattered on jackets, mock shirts, and puffy vests. zippers at unlikely angles adorn tank tops and striped fleece sweatshirts. Instead of the usual sneakers, there were elevated wedges and leather slip-ons.
The fashion line, sold under the name UAS, is integral to Under Armour's efforts to go beyond sports arenas and gyms. Executives know that to become a global powerhouse like Nike, they have to muscle their gear out of the stadium and into everyday life. Ben Pruess, senior vice president of sportswear at Under Armour, said the fashion line exists to reach "new customers in new places." He wants to win over tastemakers and fashion industry insiders to make UAS an aspirational label, then sell the clothes to a larger audience. Prices range from $30 snapback caps to $1,500 trench coats.
"This is the first collection, and it would be foolish and a disservice to the strategy to say, 'We did it,'" said Pruess. "This is one of what will be maybe 50 collections in my tenure. It's an iterative process we will continue to refine and refine."
Last October, Under Armour chief executive Kevin Plank pegged the potential for sportswear revenue across the industry at nearly $13 billion. Nike's sportswear segment alone raked in $6.6 billion in sales last year, far more than Under Armour's entire $4 billion business.
The man tasked with making UAS fashionable and cool is Tim Coppens, a clothing designer who was brought on as Under Armour's executive creative director in June. The former Ralph Lauren and Adidas executive had his own sporty label before signing on with Under Armour. Coppens's designs for UAS use fitted, tailored silhouettes instead of the baggy looks prominent in sneaker culture.
You will not need to step inside a Barneys New York or Mr. Porter shop to check out Under Armour's take on fancy fashion. Expect soon to see new clothes on all the company's big-name endorsers, including Stephen Curry, Bryce Harper, and Andy Murray.
By Kim Bhasin and Matthew Townsend in New York; editor: Aaron Rutkoff.