A determination to innovate has helped make Under Armour one of the fastest-rising brands in sport. Richard Palmer-Jones, owner of the brand’s UK master agent for golf, explains the brand’s ethos, and how it shines though in their latest outerwear.
Not many people realise that one of golf’s fastest growing companies began with an American footballer combing New York looking for a pair of ladies’ tights.
“Under Armour really began when its founder, Kevin Plank, got fed up with his white cotton shirt getting soaked with sweat every time he played,” says Richard Palmer-Jones, owner of the brand’s UK master agent PJH Brand management. “He was convinced there was something better. He found the material he wanted in a New York hosiery market. He got someone to teach him how to sew a garment, and basically produced a compression tee shirt that moved moisture.
“Today, everyone has moisture-wicking technology in their lines, and the benefits of compression in sport – heightened proprioception, stronger and more repeatable movements, reduced muscle oscillation – are established. And from that one simple garment the brand now makes pretty much everything, including the likes of hunting, shooting and fishing and of course golf. And Kevin is still running the business.”
Palmer-Jones is convinced it is this spirit of innovation that has underpinned the impressive rise of Under Armour. Founded just 19 years ago, the brand generated some $3.9 billion last year and has recorded no fewer than 20 quarters of 20% growth. Its aim as a global concern is to reach $10 billion by 2020.
Under Armour got into golf in 2005, bravely taking on the likes of Nike and adidas with a smallish range of performance-inspired garments. But their 2006 introduction of the baselayer into golf, in the form of the ColdGear Mock, really put them on the map. Its impact is summed up by market share stats that suggest more than half of golfers now own a baselayer.
The Mock was swiftly joined by the impressive ColdGear trouser, a highly technical weatherproof garment that offered an effective one-layer winter option. But while growth was steady and the brand played its part in moving performance fabrics into the mainstream, Under Armour remained a little under the radar – until signing Jordan Spieth up on the same day Nike announced its mega deal with Rory McIlroy, in January 2013. Their presence in the game has risen with his.
“Our focus has always been on bringing something new to the market continually,” Palmer Jones continues. “At Under Armour’s global HQ in Baltimore there is a series of James Bond-like innovation laboratories, which house a small army of people whose job it is to think about the future – new technologies, new materials, new ways of looking at things. That bears fruit in all the activities Under Armour covers, and has helped us bring something new to the golf market every six months. This desire to innovate inspires us to grow as a brand and seems to inspire people to buy our product.”
The recent SS15 polo shirt lines exhibit three such technologies that show the brand’s approach. HeatGear fabric pulls together moisture wicking, full-stretch, odour control and easy care elements; ColdBlack reflects the UV rays which heat the fabric up, giving health benefits and making the UV absorbing darker hues feel cooler; and ArmourVent sees ventilation holes knitted into the fabric to maintain its integrity and reduce the fraying that crops up when holes are simply punched through.
But the latest innovation is found in the new outerwear products, launched for this winter and already mostly sold in. The new garments centre on Under Armour’s Storm line, which has been around for about five years offering everything from hoodies to full rain suits. But this rather chaotic product line has now been pulled into order.
“We are basically offering three levels of waterproofing, with clothing falling into either in Storm 1, Storm 2 and Storm 3 categories,” Palmer-Jones explains. “Storm 1 would offer water repellency. That grey quarter-zip top we saw Spieth wearing at St Andrews would be a good example. It offers increased functionality on a standard garment, with breathability, and a level of shower resistance. But it’s not a garment for driving rain. It retails from £50.
“Storm 2 offers increased water repellancy and a wind proof membrane. It’s a very functional garment that protects from wind chill, though it’s not seam sealed. The Elemental half-zip, from £75, is a good example.
“Then Storm 3 is a true rainwear item, 100% guaranteed waterproof and windproof, seam sealed, and with a waterproof membrane. The ArmourStorm rain jacket, at £100, fits into this category.”
These products come armed with UA technology like ColdGear Infrared, an inner coating that helps you retain body heat, and quick-drying Cocona. But for A/W 2015 they will be joined by a new Gore-Tex rainsuit. Under Armour’s global HQ happens to be a 45-minute drive from Gore’s, so it was perhaps inevitable the two would work together.
Under Armour’s Gore Tip rainsuit focuses on a recurring theme of removing distraction in the garment. The first area they looked at was the inner liner. “Most rainsuits feature two layer Gore,” Palmer-Jones continues. “That’s to say an outer layer with a mesh liner or liner moving within the garment at a different rate, slipping and sliding within it. The golfer doesn’t need or want that. So we built a three layer bonded, one piece of fabric, the membrane between the outer fabric and inner layer. This makes it easier to move moisture from inside to outside and gets rid of additional distraction.
“We also looked at stretch. We’ve always had this in our products, and for any physical activity it is basically a pre-requisite. But when we looked at other garments, all we saw was sections of stretch. Everyone is built differently so we didn‘t see how sections would work. So in this suit, the whole thing stretches. This allows us to create a suit that is more figure-hugging with less fabric flapping about, a neater garment that can function more effectively.
“We also spoke to pros about stretch rate, and they said they’d like more. We saw about 8%, so we have upped that 25% to 10%.”
Under Armour’s current winterwear collection will be at retail from September, with an in-store launch in October. A 2.4-metre wall display is available to retailers who can commit to stocking at least the 98 garments or so that will fill it, something Palmer-Jones reports as having been very successful. “It’s a professional sell-through tool, easy to present, keep on top of and very flexible,” he insists. “There’s nothing drilled into the walls and it can be taken down in 10 minutes.”
Palmer-Jones also states a company policy to resist driving terms unhelpful to the retailer. “The market often encourages people buy more than they truly want or need, and once you stuff the pipeline too full you have to cut your price to release it. We avoid over-supplying, allowing people to sell through at a rate dictated by the consumer and uphold the demand.”
Aspects like Major scripting, solid margins and the inclusive styling of the brand should all work to preserve Under Armour’s steep upward curve; and if Jordan Spieth continues with his own inexorable rise to the top of the game, that shouldn’t hurt either.
For more information visit www.underarmour.co.uk