When it comes to sportswear giants, Nike, Adidas, and Puma come to mind. However, Under Armour has been changing that narrative since its inception in 1996.
The brand may not be as old as its competitors, but it has established itself as a leading producer of athletic apparel and accessories. Today, Under Armour markets its products in over 130 countries and its revenue reached $5 billion in 2019. But how did the brand rise to the top? Let’s take a look at the history of Under Armour.
What Is Under Armour?
Founded in 1996 by Kevin Plank, Under Armour started as a simple idea: to create a t-shirt that could wick sweat from an athlete’s body. Plank was a football player himself, and he realized the need for apparel that could help athletes stay dry and comfortable during practice and games.
Since then, the brand has grown to become one of the most innovative and successful in sports apparel. From the beginning, Under Armour has been dedicated to using cutting-edge technology to enhance athletic performance. From moisture-wicking fabrics to precision fit, Under Armour has created an entire line of clothing and shoes designed to help athletes not just perform better but do so in greater comfort.
One of the things that sets Under Armour apart from its competitors is its dedication to customization. Under Armour offers a unique program called “The Under Armour Icon,” which allows athletes to customize their gear by selecting colors, logos, and even slogans.
This has become a popular choice for many athletes, especially those who play on teams and want to create a unified look. Additionally, Under Armour has partnered with a number of professional sports teams to create specialty products, such as the popular Curry line of basketball shoes inspired by basketball star Stephen Curry.
Another area where Under Armour has excelled is in its approach to sustainability. The company has executed numerous efforts to become environmentally friendly, from incorporating recycled materials in its products, minimizing its carbon footprint by utilizing renewable energy sources, and collaborating with organizations like Good Sports to donate uniforms and equipment to communities in need. While many companies are beginning to recognize the importance of sustainability, Under Armour has been leading the way for years.
Speaking of communities, Under Armour has also placed a significant focus on community outreach. The brand has an active philanthropic arm, the UA Foundation, that supports a variety of causes, such as youth sports initiatives, fitness programs, and education initiatives. From sponsoring running competitions to building fitness centers in underserved neighborhoods, Under Armour is using its platform to make a significant impact.
Founding Years Of Under Armour
Kevin Plank, a former University of Maryland football player, founded Under Armour with the mission to create high-performance clothing for athletes. Frustrated with the lack of options for moisture-wicking shirts, Plank began experimenting with fabrics and designs in his grandmother’s basement.
He developed a shirt made of synthetic material that could wick sweat away from the body and keep athletes cool and dry. Plank started selling his shirts to teammates, and soon enough, he realized he had tapped into an unmet need in the market.
In 1996, Plank launched Under Armour, initially selling his gear from the trunk of his car. The brand received its first big break when he convinced Georgia Tech’s football team to wear his shirts during a game.
This exposure led to more sales, and soon afterward, NFL teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos, began ordering Under Armour gear for their players. In just a few years, Under Armour’s revenue skyrocketed, reaching $17,000,000 in 2000.
In 2006, Under Armour became a publicly-traded company, with shares sold on the New York Stock Exchange. The company’s growth has been nothing short of impressive. They have expanded their product offerings beyond clothing to include footwear, accessories, and digital fitness apps. In recent years, they have even entered the health and wellness space, acquiring popular wellness apps such as MyFitnessPal and Endomondo.
Under Armour’s success can be attributed to their commitment to innovation. The company continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in performance apparel. They have developed unique fabrics, such as their patented UA Tech™, that help athletes reach their full potential. Under Armour also invests heavily in research and development, with a focus on designing products that can improve athletic performance and aid in recovery.
Humble Beginnings (1996-2000)
Before Under Armour, moisture-wicking fabric was unheard of in the athletic wear industry. Kevin Plank’s idea to create a shirt that was comfortable to wear even when drenched in sweat resonated with athletes who needed to perform at their best.
His vision soon turned into reality with the launch of his first product, the HeatGear shirt. However, sales were slow as Plank struggled to compete with established sportswear brands. Determined to succeed, he spent $25,000 on an ad in ESPN The Magazine, which catapulted Under Armour into the mainstream.
By 1998, Under Armour had moved out of Plank’s grandmother’s basement and into its first headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. Despite sales increasing to $100,000, the company still faced financial difficulties.
Plank emptied his savings account and maxed out his credit cards to keep the company afloat. The breakthrough came in 1999 when Under Armour signed an exclusive contract with Georgia Tech to provide the football team with their gear. This partnership gave the brand credibility and opened doors to new opportunities.
In the year 2000, under the leadership of Kevin Plank, Under Armour went public. The company was valued at $96 million, and the shares soared by 130% on its first day of trading.
This was a turning point in the history of Under Armour, which propelled the brand to the next level. The proceeds from the initial public offering were invested towards product development, expanding distribution, and marketing. Under Armour became the official outfitter for various professional sports teams, including MLB, NHL, and NFL.
Breaking Through (2001-2005)
The Breaking Through era saw Under Armour introduce new innovative products such as moisture-wicking fabrics and compression apparel which improved athletes’ performance, making them feel more comfortable during intense activities.
Back then, all the major sportswear brands were competing to outfit the greatest athletes, with Under Armour choosing to target someone else — the “Everyday Joe.” Traditional athletic brands focused on Olympic athletes, but “You’re not like them, you’re under-dogs,” Under Armour’s then-CEO Kevin Plank said in a presentation during the era.
He added that Under Armour was addressing exactly what was missing in the industry and saw an opportunity to appeal to the middle class as the market leader. This shift in strategy allowed Under Armour to differentiate itself from the competition and capture more customers.
Another crucial aspect of Under Armour’s success during the Breaking Through era was the new focus on branding. Under Armour tapped into the emotional psyche of athletes and offered a sense of empowerment.
With ads inspiring athletes to protect their “house” and stating that no one can make you quit, Under Armour began building a loyal following of athletes of all levels who felt empowered and ready to take on the competition. The company’s creative branding, which used powerful messaging, music and visuals depicting grueling, high-intensity workouts in darkly-lit, underground training facilities, further established its image of having a “grit-over-glamour” attitude.
The company’s marketing and branding were further fortified by strategic partnerships with top schools and sports organizations. In 2003, the University of Maryland became the first college to sign an all-school athletic agreement with Under Armour, and soon thereafter, the company partnered with the NFL and MLB.
This gave Under Armour instant credibility and exposure amongst professional athletes and, in turn, inspired younger athletes to wear Under Armour to achieve their goals.
Throughout the Breaking Through era, Under Armour grew rapidly. The company achieved the “$100 million sales goal” way ahead of schedule, hitting it in just two years. The company’s revenue was $281 million in 2004 and $430 million in 2005. By the end of the era, Under Armour had become a symbol of peak physical fitness, and the company was valued at nearly $4 billion.
Innovations Of Under Armour
1. Charged Cushioning
One of the major innovations of Under Armour is the Charged Cushioning technology used in its shoes. This technology provides a responsive, durable, and lightweight cushioning system for athletes. Compared to traditional foam, Charged Cushioning has a higher energy return, giving athletes more push-off power with each stride. This helps athletes to run faster, jump higher, and train longer without fatiguing as quickly.
Under Armour’s HeatGear technology is specifically designed to keep athletes cool, dry, and light even in hot and humid conditions. The technology uses a moisture-wicking fabric that pulls sweat away from the skin and helps it evaporate quickly. This not only provides comfort during workouts, but also helps to prevent chafing and rashes. The fabric is stretchy and breathable, allowing athletes to move freely and maintain optimum performance.
3. Compression Technology
Another innovation of Under Armour is the use of compression technology in its products. Compression garments, including shorts, leggings, and shirts, help to improve blood flow, reduce muscle fatigue and soreness, and enhance athletic performance. The compression fabric fits snugly to the body, reducing muscle vibration and improving oxygen delivery to the muscles. Under Armour’s compression garments are designed for different activities and provide targeted compression in specific areas.
4. UA Record
UA Record is a fitness tracking app developed by Under Armour. The app collects data from wearable devices and provides real-time feedback on workouts, nutrition, and sleep habits. It enables athletes to set goals, track their progress, and get personalized insights to improve their performance. The app also provides social features that allow athletes to connect with friends, share workout routines, and compete with others.
Hovr is a running shoe technology developed by Under Armour that features a connected insole that tracks and analyzes running data. The Hovr shoes are designed to give athletes a better running experience with the help of a sensor embedded in the midsole. The sensor connects to the MapMyRun app, providing real-time feedback on cadence, stride length, and other important metrics. The Hovr shoes also have an energy web that provides responsive cushioning and helps to reduce impact on the joints.
Challenges And Controversies Of Under Armour
Below are the challenges and controversies Under Armour experienced!
1. Mistreatment of employees: In 2018, a report by The Wall Street Journal claimed that employees at Under Armour were being “talked to like they were children,”. The report also claimed that employees were being treated unfairly, with some being asked to work overtime without compensation, and others being disciplined for things that were out of their control. The company faced heavy criticism over the mistreatment of employees, and was forced to review its policies and procedures to ensure that they were in line with employee rights.
2. Allegations of inappropriate work culture: In 2017, Under Armour CEO, Kevin Plank, faced backlash after he made comments about President Donald Trump being “a real asset” to America. Many employees and customers saw this as a problematic endorsement of the President’s policies, and expressed their discontent on social media. In response, Plank wrote an open letter to Under Armour employees, in which he stated that Under Armour did not support the President’s policies, and that the company was committed to diversity, inclusivity, and equal rights for all.
3. Under Armour’s declining sales: In recent years, Under Armour has had to deal with declining sales, due in part to increased competition from rival brands like Nike and Adidas. The company’s inability to keep up with changing trends and consumer preferences has also contributed to its falling sales numbers. However, in 2020, the company announced a major restructuring plan aimed at boosting sales and improving efficiency, which has shown positive results so far.
4. Performance-enhancing products controversy: In 2019, Under Armour was accused of selling performance-enhancing products that were not approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The company denied the allegations, and claimed that its products adhered to all rules and regulations set by WADA. However, the controversy sparked concerns about the safety of using Under Armour products, and raised questions about the company’s dedication to fair play in sports.
5. Environmental concerns: In 2019, Under Armour was ranked last among 45 sportswear brands in terms of environmental impact, according to a study by environmental organization Stand.earth. The study found that Under Armour had failed to make significant efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, and was not transparent about its environmental policies and practices. The company has since pledged to improve its environmental performance, and has made some efforts to do so, such as switching to recycled materials in some of its products.
Impact And Influence Of Under Armour
Under Armour first gained popularity in the early 2000s with its moisture-wicking compression shirts. These shirts were designed to keep athletes dry and comfortable during intense workouts. They were a game-changer in the industry as they provided a solution to a problem that had plagued athletes for years. From there, Under Armour expanded its product line, offering everything from shoes and socks to jackets and hats.
One of the reasons why Under Armour has been so successful is its focus on innovation. The company has invested heavily in research and development to create products that are not only functional but also aesthetically pleasing. For example, the company’s HOVR technology, which is used in its running shoes, provides a cushioning system that adapts to your stride. This feature offers a personalized running experience that is unmatched by any other brand.
Another factor that has contributed to Under Armour’s success is its marketing strategy. The company has signed high-profile athletes such as Steph Curry, Michael Phelps, and Tom Brady to endorse its products.
This has helped to generate buzz around the brand and has made it a go-to choice for many athletes. Furthermore, the company has been successful in creating a community around its brand, with events such as the UA Challenge and partnerships with fitness apps.
Under Armour’s impact on the athletic industry can also be seen in its sustainability efforts. The company has made an effort to reduce its environmental impact by using recycled materials in its products.
In addition, Under Armour has expanded its focus to incorporate wellness and nutrition. The company has launched an app that tracks workouts, nutrition, and sleep, providing a comprehensive wellness solution to customers.
Global Expansion Of Under Armour
The first step in Under Armour’s expansion strategy was entering the European market in 2014. This move was widely seen as a test of the brand’s ability to compete against established players such as Nike and Adidas on their home turf.
Under Armour initially launched its brand in the UK, offering a range of sports gear and clothing for various athletic activities. With a presence in over 10 European countries, Under Armour experienced significant growth. The company went on to establish its European headquarters in Amsterdam, which would serve as a hub for its future European expansion.
The next step for Under Armour was its expansion into Asia, where it saw a massive opportunity for growth. The company’s first foray into Asia was the opening of its first store in China in 2011.
Under Armour partnered with China-based Tmall to establish an online store that allowed the company to sell its products to Chinese customers directly. Under Armour also began providing products to major Chinese retailers such as JD.com in 2016. It has since become a household name in the Chinese sports industry, with plans to open over 1,000 stores in the country by 2030.
In addition to Europe and Asia, Under Armour has also expanded its reach to Latin America. The company’s entry into the Latin American market was through the acquisition of Brazil-based sportswear manufacturer Azzaro in 2017. This acquisition allowed Under Armour to establish a foothold in the Brazilian market, which is considered the largest and most influential market in Latin America. Under Armour is currently expanding its operations in Latin America, with a focus on Brazil and Mexico.
Under Armour’s global expansion has been fueled by its focus on innovation and technology. The company prides itself on developing cutting-edge products that have helped it establish a loyal customer base across multiple markets.
Under Armour places a strong emphasis on research and development, with a dedicated team of scientists and engineers working on new fabric technology, shoe designs, and other areas to further improve its product offerings.
Social Works And Philanthropy Of Under Armour
Under Armour invests in education through numerous programs with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). One such program is the “UA Future Show”, which provides resources and equipment to schools.
Under Armour made a significant commitment of nearly $17 million in 2020, designed to support youth literacy and education in underserved communities in Baltimore. This highlights their dedication to creating a better future through education and providing youth access to technology and resources that they may not have had before.
Under Armour also has a profound dedication to veterans and military personnel. Under Armour’s “UA Freedom Project” is dedicated to providing support to groups of veterans, military personnel, and first responders. As a company, they donate time, money, resources, and awareness to ensure that these groups receive the support they require. Their strong support for veterans and service personnel aligns with their mission of “Making You Better.”
Living healthier, actively making a difference in the community, and supporting environmental efforts is also a significant focus for Under Armour. In recent years they have launched several initiatives and programs that focus on the importance of living an active and healthy life, with an eye to making a difference. Under Armour uses innovative technology and sustainable materials to reduce their environmental footprint.
Moreover, Under Armour believes in equal opportunities and women empowerment. The company recently launched the “United We Win” initiative designed to support gender equality. These initiatives and programs focus on creating a more inclusive society and offering positive change in the world.
Best Design Of All Time Of Under Armour
1. The Under Armour HOVR Phantom: The HOVR Phantom is the latest in Under Armour’s line of running shoes. These shoes feature UA’s patented HOVR foam technology that provides unparalleled comfort and cushioning. The HOVR Phantom has an eye-catching design, with a sleek and futuristic look. The shoe’s form-fitting design and breathable upper add to its comfort level, making it an excellent choice for runners. The HOVR Phantom not only looks great but performs exceptionally well.
2. The Under Armour Curry 4: The Under Armour Curry 4 is one of the best basketball shoes in the market today. The shoe’s design elements are inspired by Stephen Curry’s playing style, making it a perfect fit for his fans. The Curry 4 has a seamless upper that provides excellent support and an innovative lacing system that makes it easy to put on. The shoe’s unique design element is the HOVR cushioning that provides unparalleled comfort and support for basketball players. The Under Armour Curry 4 is a fitting tribute to the brand’s collaboration with the talented Golden State Warriors player.
3. The Under Armour TriBase Reign: The TriBase Reign is Under Armour’s first-ever training shoe. The shoe is designed specifically for weightlifting and provides excellent support for different types of movements. The shoe’s design includes a flexible forefoot that provides ample room for your toes to move, making it an excellent choice for athletes with wider feet. The shoe’s TriBase design adds to its stability, making it an ideal shoe for squats, deadlifts, and other weightlifting exercises.
4. The Under Armour UA Tech T-shirt: The UA Tech T-shirt is one of Under Armour’s best-selling products. The shirt’s design is simple yet practical, with a loose fit and lightweight fabric. The UA Tech T-shirt’s moisture-wicking technology keeps you cool and dry, making it an excellent choice for athletes. The shirt’s design is versatile and can be worn for sports activities or casual wear. The UA Tech T-shirt is an example of how even the simplest designs can leave a lasting impression.
5. The Under Armour Project Rock 1: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s collaboration with Under Armour produced one of the best designs in the brand’s history. The Project Rock 1 is a training shoe that features a unique design inspired by Johnson’s wrestling persona. The shoe’s upper includes a breathable knit material paired with a stable heel counter that provides excellent support. The Project Rock 1 has a low cut design that gives it a minimalist look and increases flexibility. The shoe’s standout design element is the large Brahma Bull logo on the heel that adds to its overall look.
Under Armour’s Impact On Culture And Fashion
1. The Rise of Under Armour
Under Armour began as a small business in the late 1990s and has made its way to the top of the athletic wear industry. It’s been reported that Under Armour’s revenue was approximately $4.9 billion in 2020. It’s not just their performance gear that’s helped them get to this point, but their innovative approach to marketing and collaborations. One of their most significant endorsements came from NBA superstar Steph Curry.
2. Under Armour in Fashion: Collaborations and Unique Designs
Under Armour is known for its traditional athletic look, but they’ve made strides in incorporating unique and fashionable pieces. In 2017, they announced a partnership with designer Tim Coppens to create a line called Under Armour Sportswear (UAS). The collection features high-end streetwear and loungewear. Additionally, Under Armour has collaborated with other designers, such as Belgian designer Martin Margiela, and has even opened a pop-up shop during New York Fashion Week.
3. Under Armour’s Social Impact
Under Armour has had a significant impact on culture, not just in fashion but in social causes as well. They recently launched a campaign called “The Only Way Is Through,” featuring athletes such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Michael Phelps. The campaign highlights the struggles of athletes and the perseverance it takes to succeed. Under Armour has also started initiatives to support and uplift young athletes. In 2016, they introduced the UA Freedom initiative, which supports the military and their families through donations and other forms of support.
4. Under Armour’s Green Initiatives
In addition to their social impact, Under Armour is focused on sustainability and reducing its environmental footprint. The brand has made strides in reducing their waste through their UA Recover program, which uses old products to create new ones. They’ve also taken steps to reduce their manufacturing waste and water usage. In 2019, the brand introduced a shoe called the UA HOVR Machina, which was made using eco-friendly materials.
5. Under Armour’s Future
Under Armour is continuing to make strides in the fashion industry and beyond. Their focus on collaboration and unique designs has helped them stay relevant in the fast-paced fashion industry. As they continue to expand their brand, they’re also making strides towards sustainability and social impact. With a combination of innovation and purpose, Under Armour is sure to continue making waves in both culture and fashion.
Under Armour is a great example of how a small idea can turn into a worldwide phenomenon. Starting out as a small operation in the basement of Kevin Plank’s grandmother’s home, the brand has become a $5 billion corporation.
Kevin’s vision to create high-performance athletic wear that kept athletes comfortable during games has propelled Under Armour to be a leading player in the sportswear industry. With its strong values, innovative technology, and commitment to quality, Under Armour’s future looks bright.