Someplace New – Interview With Under Armour Sportswear’s Ben Pruess
Under Armour is already one of the top three sports brands in the US, with a strong ambition to expand globally. The birth of Under Armour Sportswear (UAS) in 2016 has marked the brand’s entry into the sportswear market, with fashion-forward footwear being part of the collection. In our current issue of SNEAKERS, we’re bringing you an interview with the man in charge of UAS, Under Armour’s President of Sport Fashion Ben Pruess. Here’s what’s next in their sneaker line.
Ben, Under Armour is perceived as a very young brand in Europe. However, it’s been around since 1996. Now UAS enters the sportswear market, in the direction of lifestyle. Can you comment on the timing?
I think the brand was created and founded in a very authentic way, trying to make athletes better, and very much around American sports. So for a long time, building that brand and that authentic point of view kept us focused and also created the brand we know today. And because we were able to create a real point of view and a real platform for performance, it allowed us to be a strong enough company to support and invest in the opportunity to extend ourselves into new places.
How important is fashion in the overall concept?
The market is heavily driven by sports fashion these days and anybody who wants to be a global player in the performance space also understands that the consumer is expecting you to be present in the sports fashion space. There’s less of a distinguishing between the two areas nowadays. I don’t think the timing matters much. It’s about the brand still being new and bringing a different and sort of a fresh energy to the market. It’s also a great opportunity for consumers to have a new choice.
You mentioned the blurring of the boundaries between performance and fashion. Can you elaborate on that?
I think the convergence of these two worlds is one of the main narratives happening right now. And I don’t think it’s a trend; I think it’s a shift and an adoption of progress. One factor is definitely that there is not a clear distinction between fashion and lifestyle and sports and innovation anymore. And you see that in the way that consumers are mixing their brands together. You see that in the way that brands are creating products that have to do both. And you see it in the way that people are using and experiencing the products that they are buying.
Do you think kids also see Under Armour as a brand of their generation more than that of their parents?
There’s no question about that and I think that that’s one of the greater traits. The brand is still very young and in very different phases in different parts of the world. And so here, in North America where we have a very strong footprint and we have very strong adoption, it’s very clear when you go to the sports arena and to the younger consumer that we really are a symbol of something new and something that defines them as different than their parents.
When you launched Under Armour Sportswear, the first season was in collaboration with designer Tim Coppens. Did that signify the new direction or was it a statement for the launch?
Well, I think it was a little bit of both. First, UAS is intentionally not trying to be a part of the pop culture sneaker game. It was intentionally for what we call the “professional Millennial”. We really focused on this idea of “beyond ambition” and we focused those words and those positions around consumers who are actively trying to make their own mark and trying to create their own future in an active way. So UAS is about people who are actively pursuing their dreams and actively pursuing their sense of self and they are not trying to follow the pop culture trend of the moment.
Why did you choose Tim Coppens as the designer for the first Under Armour Sportswear collection?
We talk about modern American sportswear, we talk about embracing our east coast roots, but fusing it with a young, credible, fashion-forward aesthetic with Tim. And I think to that point, we specifically chose him because he understands high-fashion and quite clearly, if you look at what he’s done with his own line, he understands where the evolution of menswear and womenswear is going. He also understands that the evolution of high-fashion includes the evolution and the incorporation of street and sneaker and sport trends.
Is Tim also drawing on Under Armour’s proprietary technologies a way to stand out?
Whether it’s our Charged Cushioning, whether it’s our Reactor insulation, whether it is any of our core technologies, we look for ways to meaningfully incorporate them into our collection because it’s one of the authentic qualities that we can bring into the fashion space. And so, when Tim has the chance to use an innovation or a technology in the right way, it’s a great point of difference for us when we’re selling to the fashion consumer because it’s something that really does have a function and something that really does have a benefit.
Do you have any examples in terms of products?
If you look at something like the Fat Tire boot, which has been a big success from COLLECTION 01, this was a product that was originally a trail running shoe that we did in collaboration with Michelin, because the Fat Tire outsole construction was a great off-road platform. It was something that he was inspired by that turned into the UAS Fat Tire boot. So when you’re walking around the streets of New York or Munich, it has the style and the taste that you would want to wear in your life, but it has all the functionality, water-resistance and grip … there are many examples where you see Tim adopting and incorporating UA’s authentic innovation.
Can you tell us about the plans to target the sneakerheads with availability in the most relevant stores?
We will start introducing that in the first half of 2018. This year, Tim was guest designer at Pitti Uomo and we did a first, small and curated introduction of the UAS brand and the tradeshow showing some of the work that we did for his signature collection. And so, it’s already starting behind the scenes.
We are very much looking forward to all that. Any last words?
I will just add, we are incredibly excited about bringing the brand to the international market. And we are also excited that we have the opportunity in Europe to create the history from scratch. And so, our goal and our belief is that Under Armour will be taking care of the European and the global consumer both on the field and on the street right away. And so, as our brand goes out there internationally, we will use the chance for those markets to learn about Under Armour as a great new story on both sides of their lives.
Thank you for this interview and the insights.