By Thomas J. Ryan
We’ve written a lot about the intersection of fashion and active-lifestyle apparel. And for good reason — today’s consumer demands performance gear that looks great, too.
But how far can a core athletic or outdoor brand push the stylish designs before muddying its image in the eyes of true athletes?
The question has probably been discussed among the folks at Under Armour as the brand gets set to debut UAS, its new sportswear line that will hit the runways at New York Fashion Week this September.
The mere fact that UAS (Under Armour Sportswear) is being marketed under different branding — no flashy UA logos here — is a common practice among companies not wanting to tarnish their mainstay brand image and/or as an effort to create a clear delineation. We imagine the Fifth Avenue fashion crowd might scoff at at UA branded blazer.
Last week, Under Armour previewed some select looks from UAS, which will be available to consumers beginning September 15 at Barney’s, Mr. Porter and other high-end fashion retailers nationwide, as well as Under Armour Brand Houses in New York, Boston and Chicago.
Created by fashion designer Tim Coppens, previously at Adidas in Germany and Ralph Lauren, the line offers casual sportswear items for everyday use, albeit on the loftier side than even Under Armour’s premium pricing. The biggest surprise to some is that it doesn’t resemble an athleisure line at all.
“The categories you wouldn’t expect Under Armour to go are where we spent a lot of time,” Ben Pruess, Under Armour’s senior vice president of sportswear, told Vogue. “It’s not common for a sports brand to go into suiting, chinos and oxfords, but those are basic items that aren’t going anywhere. They just needed a fresh take.”
And perhaps that’s a response to fashion brands slowly creeping into performance from the other side. Two weeks ago at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, Cindy McNaull, brand and marketing director at performance-wear fabric maker Cordura, told SGB that the company has seen a definite uptick in technical-fabric demand from fashion houses. While they may not be designing the next greatest running short or baselayer, there’s room for more breathable dresses or a suit with more stretch.
Under Armour’s link-up with a fashion designer also follows similar moves by competitor brands, and will hopefully add some aspirational cred to Under Armour’s other fashion offerings. Looking back over the sports-to-runway retail timeline, Adidas has collaborated with Stella McCartney and Yohji Yamamoto on high-end ranges while recently reaching a monumental, long-time deal with Kanye West that includes the creation of sneakers, apparel, gear and physical retail stores for the rapper’s Yeezy line. Meanwhile Nike has collaborated with Olivier Rousteing, Sacai’s Chitose Abe and Riccardo Tisci, and Puma hit pay dirt on the fashion side with its Rihanna collaboration.
On his company’s second-quarter conference call with analysts, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank said the inspiration to launch UAS came as “people are asking and trying to figure out how to wear the brand beyond the pitch, the field, the court.”
He noted that at his company’s two main competitors, Nike and Adidas, sportswear makes up about 20 to 30 percent of revenues and he estimated the overall size of the sportswear market for sports brands is about $15 billion. Under Armour only has a “few percentage points” in sportswear currently. Said Plank, “We think there’s a massive appetite for those in our space to really be effective in sportswear.”
While the collection will bring Under Armour to high-end stores for the first time, Plank said the line is “built for the mobile native consumer” and will “predominantly” be a direct-to-consumer offering. Plank added, “This initiative represents an ambitious step for our brand and provides a great amount of daylight between it and our existing product range.”
Styles featured in the digital lookbook include the Transparent Parka ($349), Draftday Tailored Sportscoat ($449) and women’s Formation Legging ($179).
Technical highlights include:
- The Transition Vest, with woven nylon fabric and brushed softshell fabric, welded down fill and smart pocketing ($199);
- The RLT Fat Tire Boot, with a padded aniline leather upper and Fat Tire outsole ($219);
- The Draftday Oxford, a take on the modern Oxford, with cotton Oxford fabric, DWR finish, stretch cuffs and collar, unbreakable threads and printed silicone hem ($129).
Photos courtesy Under Armour