Techno music thundered from loudspeakers, strobe lights flashed. Models paraded around a steel frame hung with pants and jackets. Pipes twisted across the ceiling and windows were smeared with color.
This was debut of Under Armour’s new fashion collection, “Under Armour Sportswear” – or UAS – in a former New York fish market that was more construction site than runway.
Amid the throng of fashion designers and photographers was Kevin Plank, head of the up-and-coming U.S.-based sportswear brand.
“We have 20 years to develop the business. It’s like why does somebody put a flag on the moon - it's about how far you can go.”
The 44-year-old Mr. Plank called Under Armour’s new focus on fashion a “$15 billion market opportunity.”
After the show, designer Tim Coppens told Handelsblatt he chose the fish market because it was raw and still in its beginning stages, just like the collection.
Under Armour generates $4 billion and continues to grow rapidly. The company models itself on market leaders Nike and Adidas, which already generate up to 30 percent of their sales with casual apparel.
According to Mr. Plank, Under Armour’s leisurewear sales currently make up only a “few percentage points.”
But that is set to change, and Mr. Plank has entrusted the mission to Ben Pruess, formerly of Adidas and now Under Armour’s president of sportswear.
“We have 20 years to develop the business,” he said. “It’s like why does somebody put a flag on the moon – it’s about how far you can go.”
Under Armour’s founder hired Mr. Pruess 18 months ago, probably in part because he knows the German competition. Until 2010, Mr. Pruess was responsible for the Adidas Original fashion brand’s global business.
Head designer Mr. Coppens also worked at Adidas Original for a couple of years.
Under Armour’s chairman is giving the two a free hand and has only met with them twice so far. Mr. Pruess and Mr. Coppens are based in New York, far removed from company headquarters in Baltimore.
At first, UAS will only be sold at selected retailers in the United States. The brand will come to Germany in spring 2018. Next month the UAS sales director will travel to Germany to meet with potential marketing partners like Soto Store in Berlin and the Peek & Cloppenburg fashion chain.
Mr. Pruess is choosy: He doesn’t much care for German department stores, saying they are too conservative. He would rather see UAS next to other young brands.
The fashion boss defines UAS’s image as modern American sportswear that is young, fresh and self-empowering. It is aimed at the young millennial generation.
“They believe they can go and contribute and produce,” said Mr. Pruess. “This idea of the new American dream – it’s there.”
Mr. Plank was born in Kensington, Maryland, and played football for the University of Maryland while studying business administration. He was irritated by the team’s sweat-soaked cotton jerseys and developed a material that absorbed sweat better and allowed more air to circulate.
It turned into a huge seller and, at the age of 23, he founded Under Armour. Innovation has been a focus ever since.
Jackets in the new fashion collection are water-repellent and zippers are glued, similar to sports apparel, and not sown. Buttons are coated with rubber.
How has Mr. Plank gone about developing the brand?
There is hardly ever a no, he said. It’s more about doing and trying things out.
The fashion brand is supposed to differ from the company’s performance sportswear. Camouflage patterns in blazers or pants, for instance, are what young people on the East Coast wear to the office, said Mr. Pruess.
Most important for billionaire Mr. Plank and his fashion team is that, right from the start, the Under Armour logo gets on the backs of the right people.