When thinking of sportswear giants, Nike and adidas come to mind as the top players in the game. However, another brand that’s been steadily making a name for itself in the industry is Under Armour. Started by Kevin Plank in 1996, Under Armour began as a small start-up in Plank’s grandmother’s basement. But with his fair share of challenges, Plank was able to build UA up to the successful company it is today and make it one of the major players in the athleisure market. From such humble beginnings to worldwide recognition, we dive deeper into just what helped Under Armour become a force within sportswear in our latest Brand Spotlight.
Kevin Plank founded Under Armour in 1996 after noticing the discomfort of wearing cotton shirts while playing football for the University of Maryland. Tired of wearing these sweat-drenched shirts, Plank created a moisture-wicking tee designed to keep athletes dry while training. He would later distribute his creations to his fellow college teammates, some of whom made it tot the NFL and would wear the shirts while in their professional team locker rooms. This helped build exposure for Plank’s, then start-up, Under Armour.
Despite the current success of Under Armour and the early praise he got for his products, getting the brand running wasn’t the easiest thing for Plank. As stated by Entrepreneur, “Plank had $43,000 in personal debt after spending his life savings and $40,000 on credit cards to get the company off the ground.” But sometimes you have to spend money to make money, so instead of wallowing in his debt, Plank took out a $25,000 ad in ESPN Magazine. Even though it was a huge risk, his bet paid off. This ad helped generate “$1 million in direct sales”, as stated in Business of Fashion, and lead to “teams purchas[ing] the clothing”. It wasn’t long before Under Armour became a household name, as the brand expanded into other sports and gained the trust of athletes with its high-performance gear. Currently, the company’s net worth is valued at over $10 billion, all in the span of less than three decades.
Continuously building on their legacy, UA leans heavily on their athlete partnerships, including the most notable being with Stephen Curry. The Golden State Warriors point guard signed with Under Armour in 2013, which was a great year for the basketball star as he was one of the top 10 scorers and assisters in the league. The partnership began with the release of the Curry One in 2015 and became a fan favorite as Curry’s name and style of play grew more popular throughout the NBA. The Curry line put the basketball performance department of Under Armour on the map. The company quickly gained market share from Nike, dominating the basketball shoe market. Currently, Steph Curry and Under Armour have expanded their partnership for the long term, offering Curry a President title for his sublabel Curry Brand and increased revenue of over $473 million, showing just how much faith Under Armour has in Curry expanding their brand.
Another iconic athlete that’s helped Under Armour propel within the sportswear industry is Tom Brady. Brady’s partnership with the company started in 2010 when he left his former footwear partner, adidas. Under Armour delivered shoes with more personalized molds to match the needs of Brady’s feet. Brady’s partnership has since then been instrumental in Under Armour’s growth, especially in the field of football cleats.
Under Armour has made attempts at entering the lifestyle/streetwear realm as well through their non-athletic partnerships. In 2018, they worked with artist A$AP Rocky, who was a creative contributor for the brand and collaborated on a skateboard-centric sneaker, the SRLo. Alongside Rocky, Under Armour signed actor and famous WWE wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson, following the retirement of his wrestling career, has grown to become a dominant figure in the entertainment industry. Under Armour signed a deal with him in 2020, and although Johnson focused more on the brand’s Project Rock line, his efforts contributed to Under Armour’s substantial growth as well.
Product innovations have come a long way for Under Armour’s growth as a business as well. Their work on the sneaker front has been significant, with releases like their HOVR and SlipSpeed running sneakers which introduced new design techniques to traditional running sneakers. Both put Under Armour on the map as a significant contender in the footwear space. HOVR has been adapted into different exercise genres, from gym gear to everyday wear. While slip-on tech has become a popular form of shoe, with brands like Nike and New Balance delivering their own versions of the style. The branding, comfortability, and durability of Under Armour shoes contributed to their growth in current times.
Under Armour is a brand that has grown from strength to strength over the years, making a name for itself in the sportswear world, particularly in the sneaker industry. Their collaborations with the likes of Curry, Brady, and Johnson have proven successful in expanding their reach and establishing a significant market share. The brand’s success, particularly in the running shoe category, is a testament to their commitment to innovation, quality, and personalized service for athletes. It’s remarkable to see how it all started with a simple idea, and now Under Armour has become a household name, synonymous with power, performance, and prestige.