Under Armour Taps Fashion Designer to Push Beyond Sports

  • Hiring of rising star Coppens moves company into sportswear
  • Collection will be sold in high-end fashion retailers

During its two decades in existence, Under Armour Inc. has cemented its reputation as a brand all about sports and sweat. Now it wants to add fashion.

The company on Thursday named designer Tim Coppens as executive creative director for a collection dubbed UAS -- for Under Armour Sportswear -- that will make its debut this fall, according to Ben Pruess, the company’s senior vice president of sportswear. The line will have a preppy look and include men’s and women’s apparel, footwear and accessories. Coppens, a rising star in the fashion world, has his own sporty-chic brand sold in high-end retailers like Barney’s. Items include $395 plaid jogging pants.

Tim Coppens
Tim Coppens
Source: Under Armour

Kevin Plank, Under Armour’s founder and chief executive officer, has maintained the company’s rapid annual growth rates of about 25 percent by expanding distribution and entering new categories such as basketball and running shoes. A fashion line may help on both fronts because it could get the brand into non-sports retailers while also giving it a share of the robust sportswear market.

“The brand can’t live up to its fullest expression of itself without capturing this element and this opportunity in the market,” Pruess said in an interview. “It also affords us the opportunity to reach a new consumer.”

Nike Territory

In October, Plank estimated the potential for sportswear revenue among Under Armour and its competitors at almost $13 billion. Last fiscal year, Nike Inc.’s sportswear segment, its biggest unit by far, accounted for $6.6 billion in sales, dwarfing Under Armour’s total annual revenue of about $4 billion.

Plank also said at the time that building a sportswear brand will take time and that it wasn’t a significant part of the company’s forecast for reaching $7.5 billion in annual sales by the end of 2018.

Logo for Under Armour Sportswear
Logo for Under Armour Sportswear
Source: Under Armour

The UAS line will be sold through its own separate website, at Under Armour flagship stores in Chicago and New York, and at a few high-end fashion retailers. The company declined to provide images, price points or what kinds of clothes would be in the collection. A so-called lookbook -- a type of catalog traditionally used in the fashion world to market a new line -- is currently being shot. The brand will probably use its paid endorsers, including NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry, to help market UAS.

Not ‘Athleisure’

One thing UAS won’t be is an attempt to capitalize on “athleisure” -- the trend of donning traditional athletic wear like sweatpants and yoga leggings as everyday wear, said Pruess, who joined Under Armour last year after a long stint at larger rival Adidas AG.

The company also doesn’t want the line associated with sneaker culture, which is known for baggy, casual looks. UAS will instead be tailored with progressive styles. It’s much more in the mold of traditional American sportswear focused on daily, fashionable separates for an ambitious consumer, Pruess said. Previous collections from Coppens, who worked for Ralph Lauren and Adidas, have included dresses, skirts, denim and sweaters.

“It doesn’t look like you just rolled out of bed on a Sunday and you are heading to the office,” Pruess said. “There’s more structure and infusion of the classics, and a sense of detail and intent on how the pieces are put together.”

Under Armour’s shares rose as much as 1.7 percent on Thursday to $36.87. They had declined 13 percent this year through Wednesday.

‘Fresh Take’

Plank started Under Armour in 1996 as a performance-apparel brand by creating a football workout shirt from synthetic yarns that soaked up sweat better than cotton. What’s now called compression has become its own category in sporting goods. Since then, the company has expanded into more sports and products all under the umbrella of technology. UAS will be infused with all the different materials and innovations used on the company’ performance side in attempt to set it apart, Pruess said.

“It’s a fresh take on American sportswear,” he said. “You’ll get this quick sense that this is not like everything else that’s out there.”

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