Blitz!: Can the $3 billion Under Armour brand tackle outdoor industry?

Former Mountain Hardwear, The North Face and L.L. Bean talent helping No. 2 U.S. sportswear brand expand into the outdoors.

When you think of the Under Armour brand, it’s easy to conjure up the image of a hulk-sized football player removing his pads to reveal in his skintight “UA” logoed baselayer. But a skier hucking a cliff in the backcountry? Or a nature-lover out for an afternoon hike?


Under Armour has its eyes on the outdoor industry … and in a big way.

In less than 20 years, the Baltimore-based sportswear brand has vaulted its way to the top ranks of the U.S. sportswear market — generating more than $3 billion in 2014 — recently surpassing stalwart Adidas, and now second only to Nike, in domestic sales. On a global level, the brand still has a ways to go versus Adidas’ nearly $15 billion and Nike’s $28 billion in 2014 global sales.

All things considered, $3 billion is a big number for a brand that does most of its sales in North America. Comparatively, outdoor industry giants The North Face and Columbia (the brand itself) reported $2.2 billion and $1.75 billion in 2014 global sales, respectively.

While Under Armour has its roots in sportswear, it recognizes the crossover potential with outdoor — just like The North Face and Columbia see opportunity in sportswear. While one might expect Under Armour’s outdoor debut to come from sporty summer pieces, it’s been making its industry inroads with cold-weather wear, exhibiting at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market for the second consecutive year (its first and only Summer Market appearance was in 2008).

“It was just a matter of time for the brand to figure out what its position should be in the outerwear side of the business,” said Matt Page, the brand’s senior director of outdoor performance.

Under Armour’s outdoor arm brought in only a fraction of last year’s revenue, but that doesn’t faze Page, who has big things planned for the near future. “As we look at revenue, and Leisure Trends data, I would want us to be a top three outerwear player by 2018,” he said. “There’s no question we can’t be up there in market share.”

Crossover appeal
This isn’t the first time a large sportswear player has eyed the outdoors. Adidas Outdoor re-introduced itself to U.S. specialty retailers in 2011. Under Armour's plan is to leverage its heritage with fitness and athletic performance, a trend that’s growing exponentially among active and outdoor enthusiasts. From Page’s perspective, today’s athletes (outdoor or indoor) aren’t one-trick ponies who only ski or play basketball. Rather, they’re setting up Tuesday night pick-up games in order to complement their overall fitness, which then pays dividends come Saturday when they hit the slopes. A bit of weightlifting and a couple mid-week runs provide further benefits.

“For us to be relevant to them in a fitness, training and athletic space and also to provide them with outdoor product is a natural,” Page said, adding that customers know Under Armour as a “premium athletic brand and associate us with quality. I want to make sure that I bring that into outerwear.

Baselayers are a natural fit, given Under Armour’s sweat-wicking history, but on the whole Page plans to focus on innovation. Improving insulation and updating the standard three-in-one jacket are two puzzles he’s ready to tackle, as well as finding a sustainable solution to the waterproof, breathable conundrum. “Everyone is looking at DWR, and … if we can get a lifetime durable DWR coating on our product that is environmentally friendly, that would be outstanding."

Tapping outdoor talent
The brand is bringing in talent from the outdoor arena to join forces with Under Armour veterans. Page himself has only been onboard for the past six months after holding tenure with Mountain Hardwear and The North Face. Kat Schoewe is another recent recruit pulled away from an eight-year stint at L.L. Bean to act as Under Armour’s design director of outdoor performance. Other new additions include Margaret Mussman, past winner of Outdoor Retailer’s Project OR fashion design competition, as well as designers from Eddie Bauer and 686.


Schoewe noted the designs will follow UA's look: strong, sporty and streamlined with clean lines, bold prints and bright colors. The “crunchy and retro” trends rampant among other outdoor brands don’t have a place. “That doesn’t mean we’re ignoring what’s happening it the outdoor market,” she said. “We just want to make sure that we’re filtering it through the Under Armour filter.”

The brand is also focusing on women — debuting highly-technical women’s specific ski wear in its first outdoor lines — something Under Armour founder Kevin Plank has pushed the brand as a whole to better speak to the female customer.

At Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2015, Under Armour debuted new skiwear, including the men’s and women’s Nimbus Shell Jacket (MSRP $600), featuring top-of-the-line Gore-Tex Pro waterproof/breathable protection, front-chest zips for venting, and a dedicated goggle pocket with a removable chamois for wiping. There’s also a stretch powder skirt, in-pocket hem adjusters and a snap on/off face liner for those blizzard days. There’s Nimbus Bib (MSRP $599), too, with Mussman designing the women’s version. It comes complete with a drop back seat for the female rider — so she, too, can pee in the woods.

Outdoor challenge
Alan Davis, owner of Princeton Sports in Maryland calls his store one of Under Armour’s first accounts back in 1996. He said the high quality and true sizing found throughout the brand made taking on its outdoor line an easy decision. “It’s soft, comfortable, the arms are long enough, good colors and they’re just an easy company to deal with,” he said. “It feels like they’re never satisfied, that they’re always trying to be better … The things that they do in technology are things you can look at and feel and know that it’s working.”

For Page, that’s a good start, and he wants more retailers to know Under Armour will be a serious outdoor contender.

“That’s my goal for sure. One, that people know we make jackets, and two, that they know we make awesome jackets, that our jackets will keep you more comfortable from a waterproof or insulation standpoint.”

--Courtney Holden


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