The History of Under Armour – A Mastermind for Performance Apparel

Not every company is noteworthy or stands out among a crowd of business analysts and industry moguls. However, sometimes the exceptional will surface with new innovation and promises to change the standard by which all is presently compared. Most people can name a few if they think about it but in the case of Under Armour Apparel, they have been a silent success. Under Armour has put their mark on the Performance Apparel industry over the last ten years and they have not only increased the standards for their direct competitors but they are constantly raising the bar for its customers. Presently, SportsSCAN Info’s Schwartz has stated that Under Armour is close to the fourth largest retailer of sporting appeal in the United States just behind Nike, Adidas and Columbia.

The Here and Now

Headquartered Baltimore, Maryland; Under Armour is a growing force and fierce competitor in the performance apparel industry. They have offices all over the world including Denver, Toronto, Hong Kong and London England.

Under Armour develops its performance apparel for men, women and youth with product lines that impact all levels of activity from everyday to extreme sport activity covering all climates and conditions. This diversity has allowed them to impact virtually every market. Presently they have five lines.

  • Coldgear
  • Loosegear
  • Turfgear
  • Allseasonsgear
  • Heatgear

In the Beginning there was Innovation

Under Armour was founded in 1996 by Kevin Plank, a football player for Maryland. The basic concept created by Plank started as a simple t-shirt made using high tech fabrics. The high tech fabric that he chose had qualities that could wick sweat and other moisture through the fabric to the surface instead of absorbing it. He believed that if athletes could be dry and the moisture wicking ability could help regulate temperature they would perform better. That was his concept. He started the company using $20,000 of his own money, $40,000 from credit and a $250,000 Small Business Loan.

Starting Small – Using your Consumers to Fuel your Success

On November 18, 1995 after Plank had created the first prototype he set up shop in his grandmother’s basement in Washington, DC. His first sale was to Georgia Tech University where interest continued to grow. Shortly after, he was supplying performance apparel to more division one football teams and over two dozen National Football Teams. His method for marketing and retaining clients was simple because he believed that if you create product for the people who will appreciate it most, then it will sell. Plank continued to market his products with this concept and further success came quickly.

By 1996, after its first year of success Under Armour developed five product lines that were all derived from the same Microfiber. The main advantages to this fabric were its ability to:

  • Wick moisture away from the skin keeping people dry
  • Reduce sweat and regulates body temperature due to breathability
  • It was light weight and comfortable

Realizing that all of these benefits applied to a variety of consumers he created five product lines targeting a range of activity levels from everyday to the extreme. It proved to be a smart decision for Plank to broaden his marketing efforts because he was so successful that he had to move to a larger facility in South Baltimore and put Under Armour on the map for good.

Opportunities to Last a Lifetime

In 1998 Under Armour became the official supplier of performance apparel to the National Football League Europe and in 1999 Warner Bros. signed on as a client as well. Under Armour apparel supplied clothing for the movie “Any Given Sunday” and “The Replacements”. It was becoming apparent that Under Armour was no longer just associated with sports but all forms of activity.

2000 was the year that Under Armour became a permanent fixture worldwide. They had 8000 official retail locations all over the world and they were continuing to grow to impressive new heights including:

  • Major league lacrosse
  • Major league Soccer
  • National Hockey League
  • USA Baseball
  • US Ski Team

Between 2000 and 2005 Under Armour was supplying over 100 division 1A football programs and thirty NFL football teams. Each year they were featured in the superbowl in one form or another. Numerous articles and case studies were written with the best being Time magazines feature that titled Under Armour as the one of the fastest growing private companies. Plank was also named businessperson of the year by the Baltimore Business Journal in 1993.

Current Events

Presently, 2005 is proving to be another exceptionally innovative year starting with 60 products for a new women’s line called UA Metal that was inspired by their ‘Duplicity Sportsbra”. And if that is not enough, they have introduced the UA Tech line, a more technical savvy and advanced version of their original line Loosegear. To reach further into the marketplace they are now targeting individual sports starting with running. They are introducing UA Streaker a line developed with technical advancements for runners.

The performance apparel industry is now a multi billion dollar business. This industry is consistently entering new markets including everyday wear and even business suit apparel. It is incorporating the performance materials to make the everyday more comfortable.

Creating Something Different

The question on many minds including that of direct competitors is how big will they grow? In the same understated way Kevin Plank began he still remains realistic yet optimistic. With 546 Under Armour employees and top competitors like Nike and Adidas, he has approximately 75% of the market share; they are definitely on the right track. The plan for the future is to target the women’s market with a more broad approach.

It is expected that Under Armour will gross an estimated $200 to $250 million this year, so many business analysts are speculating what the next big move will be. As a privately held company, many believe that Under Armour will be acquired by one of their larger competitors. On the other hand, a company only needs to gross $250 million to be eligible to go public and attract the appropriate investors and they are almost there.

Under Armour apparel has been a company that has flown under the radar to become the leading success story in the textile industry for performance apparel. Each milestone and creative achievement is a testament to the true meaning of designing what the consumer demands. It is impossible to predict what the future will hold for this extraordinary company but is safe to say that what they have achieved is a spot on the red carpet of industry beside the big players.