Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Under Armour Bets on Some Really Cool Shoes

The besieged brand brings fabric R&D and chewing-gum science to your feet.

Under Armour’s top designers traveled to New York this week to unveil the apparel and shoes the company will start selling next year. They kitted out mannequins in a Chelsea office building the same week their employer gave Wall Street a sobering outlook, and promptly lost almost one-fifth of its market value.

“The growth is still there, and it requires significant investment,” Chief Executive Officer Kevin Plank told analysts. “It is time for us to invest.”

The rain streaking the windows seemed appropriate.

There were plenty of garish clothes, however, to brighten things up, including the company’s new fashion line—designed with Barneys in mind—and the first of the brand’s famous compression shirts that will be stretch-woven, a process that makes for a lighter, more durable, and more flexible garment than traditional sewing.

Design Director John Canale, meanwhile, was most excited about a fabric treatment Under Armour is calling CoolSwitch, designed to do for a sweaty body what mint chewing gum does for your mouth. 

“It’s one of our No. 1 technologies for Spring 2017,” Canale said. “It won’t reduce perspiration, but it’s going to give you the sensation of being cooler and allow you to go harder and longer.”

Is there a fair amount of marketing mumbo-jumbo woven in there as well? Of course, but such is the sportswear game—and there’s some science, too. The stuff is made with xylitol, a sugar-alcohol used in mint gum. It occurs naturally in corn husks, mushrooms, and berries ... and unnaturally in workout clothes.

The company started selling the fabric treatment in clothes early this year; most notably tennis star Andy Murray wore the stuff in the Australian Open. For next year, Under Armour is stitching it into a pair of running shoes, which it unveiled Thursday.

Under Armour footwear
Under Armour's newest running shoe is all about keeping sweaty feet minty cool.
Source: Under Armour

Critically, the shoes, which will sell for $100, seemed to be made for the summer sock-hater, a sign that the company is breaking with the status quo yet again. The upper is barely more than a tight mesh, laced inside with the CoolSwitch material. The soles are pocked with big gaps where air can flow to the bottom of hard-working feet.

“The whole story here is about airflow and 360-degree ventilation,” said Jennifer Carcich, director of running footwear. “Honestly, I love this shoe. I’m super excited about it, and it’s tested really well with consumers.”

More importantly, the kicks aren’t ugly—they’re minimalist enough to look good on a track or in a trendy co-working space. 

Under Armour has long been an apparel-first company. Last year, clothes accounted for 71 percent of its revenue. If it ever plans to catch Adidas and Nike, it needs some big-hit shoes, specifically ones that aren’t a facsimile of what’s being churned out in Bavaria or Beaverton.

Under Armour’s designers seem to realize that the best chance to do that is to seed some of their apparel DNA into their footwear lab. In crafting their first running shoe, Under Armour designers picked up techniques from a bra factory

Fittingly, the company’s footwear revenue climbed 42 percent last quarter. A supercool running sneaker won’t be a game-changer, but it could put some more points on the board.

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