When Kevin Plank started Under Armour in 1996 after graduating from the University of Maryland, it’s unlikely he thought the road ahead would be an easy one. The apparel and sportswear market is difficult to compete in — constant adaptation is essential to keep up with moving trends.
Twenty years later, Under Armour finds themselves in a position where adaptation — as always — will be crucial to their survival as a profitable company.
The Baltimore-based company lost over 50% of its value in 2017 and they’ve failed to make up much of what they lost this year. Under Armour is a long way from its 2015 high point of nearly $52 per share — the price now sits around $18 per share.
Under Armour’s competitors are certainly not making it easy for them to mount a comeback. Nike took a chance by making Colin Kaepernick the face of their new ad campaign and it paid off — they’ve increased their value by $6 billion since the campaign launched around Labor Day. Adidas, and Kanye West with them, has made themselves a fixture of casual sports fashion and skateboarding. Smaller brands like Champion (which collaborated with Supreme) and FILA have gained cult-like followings among young people for their designs and comfort.
With these factors working against Under Armour, what is the course of action necessary to increase their profile?
Rap music and sneaker brands have been tied together since the genre’s inception. UA finally got in on the fun by releasing their collab with A$AP Rocky in September. Rocky, who’s been fashionable since he was just starting out in Harlem, was inspired by skate-rave culture to create the SRLo, a chunky skate shoe that resembles the 2001 Osiris D3 sneaker. Though I am not a fan of this version of the vintage sneaker revival, collaborating with artists and musicians is a good avenue for Under Armour to explore.
Getting your products on the feet of influencers is key to growing your popularity and, fortunately or unfortunately, there’s no bigger influence than Kanye West right now. The rapper/producer/designer/fashion icon was spotted wearing Under Armour Forge 96 sneakers last week in Chicago.
I much prefer Forge 96’s to A$AP Rocky’s shoe – they’re versatile and are more suited for the popular athletic-meets-leisure style. Whether West would work with UA is unlikely given his long-term Adidas partnership, but the fact that tastemakers are wearing their shoes is a good sign (despite the fact that they may have caught Kanye at the low-point of his likability).
If you’re a basketball fan then you know Under Armour’s prize athlete is Steph Curry. The two-time MVP has been with them since 2013 and released his fifth signature shoe earlier in 2018. On October 10, however, they added a new star to the UA family – Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid.
Embiid signed a five-year deal with Under Armour — one that, according to ESPN, would make him the highest-paid big man in the league. He’s a great get for Under Armour, popular among young fans and extremely charismatic, so a signature shoe deal with this superstar-to-be will likely vault the company’s profile.
Under Armour will need hard work and luck to be able to compete with brands like Adidas and Nike, but their actions of late give a clear statement — they’re not giving up.