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Under Armour Now Makes Spacesuits. Is That Good Business?

The US-based sportswear brand has partnered with Virgin Group on a new collection of spacesuits.
Under Armour store Shanghai | Source: Shutterstock
By
  • Bloomberg

BALTIMORE, United States — Under Armour Inc.'s latest product is literally out of this world.

The sportswear company unveiled a new line of spacesuits and boots on Wednesday, part of a long-term partnership with Virgin Group Ltd. The clothing, which won’t be available to the public, will be worn by passengers on Virgin Galactic’s future commercial space travel, trips that cost $250,000 and have no set launch date.

So why invest so much into a product that has a target audience of just a few hundred people? Following an unveiling event outside New York City, Under Armour founder and Chairman Kevin Plank discussed the benefits to his brand by pointing at the space boots on his feet.

“Apparently these boots are already trending,” he said. “How much is that worth? You can’t even put a price on that.”

And the publicity will only grow if Virgin manages to actually send people into space. Virgin already has 600 customers signed up for upcoming voyages, trips that are bound to receive a lot of attention.

“Until these flights become commonplace, you’d expect they’d garner significant media exposure, which means plenty of camera time for prominently displayed suit logos,” said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing executive at Baker Street Advertising. “There’s tremendous value in that.”

Dorfman said the suits might subconsciously help sell other gear. If Under Armour can make product good enough for the rigours of space travel, the thinking goes, then it can probably be entrusted for the average weekend warrior’s running shoes or compression shorts.

Cool Factor

Plank, who declined to comment on how much Under Armour invested in the project, said the innovation works both ways. The suits, boots and base layers feature four pieces of Under Armour technology currently available in products already sold to the public, plus four new pieces of technology that will hit stores in 2020.

“Just as importantly, the thing looks as cool as it gets,” Plank said. “Which is a large part of what drives thinking about if we want to do it.”

Though the the suits and base layers won’t be available for retail purchase, there will be a limited retail collection co-branded with Virgin.

The full space outfit was unveiled Wednesday at an indoor skydiving facility outside New York City. The apparel, which is all varying shades of blue, is not what many would think of when they picture space travel. The suits are not airtight, nor are they the stiff, bulky images typically associated with astronauts. Virgin Galactic’s passengers will remain in closed capsules, so clothing looks more like it’s for Captain Kirk than Neil Armstrong.

Rebuilding Effort

The unveiling comes as Under Armour reaches the end of what executives have called the three-year rebuilding effort. The company wrote down a large chunk of inventory, reworked its supply chain and eliminated about 40 percent of its products to focus on its highest-selling lines. While other large sportswear companies have moved to openly embrace casual consumers and the trend of “athleisure,” Under Armour has remained dedicated to performance products.

After two years of stock declines, Under Armour began to bounce back in 2018. The shares are up 15 percent so far this year.

Under Armour isn't the first major sportswear brand to think beyond Earth. Adidas-owned Reebok has been building astronaut boots for an upcoming trip to the International Space Station, part of a partnership with the aerospace-equipment maker David Clark Co. Reebok called the boots the "first evolution in space footwear in more than 50 years."

“NASA came to us and said, ‘We need the lightest ever space boot, because weight is everything in terms of what you’re shooting up into space, but we need our folks to be able to actually function,’” Matt O’Toole, head of the Reebok brand, said last year on the Bloomberg Business of Sports podcast. “So we created the Floatride space boot, which is now going to go into orbit.”

Humans have been traveling to space since the early 1960s. In those 70 years, fewer than 600 astronauts have made the trip, meaning Virgin’s signup list is already longer than the list of human who have been to space.

“Who knows?” Dorfman said. “It may eventually grow into a significant market.”

By Eben Novy- Williams; editor: Nick Turner.

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