Under Armour announced their entry into the performance running market on Tuesday, December 9, with a media event in New York City. Their product will launch on January 31, 2009, but this was the day for the media to get a peak at the new shoe line (the Men's Apparition is shown here) and hear from Founder Kevin Plank, Senior VP of Marketing Steve Battista and Director of Footwear, Running and Training, Chris Brewer.
Chris is well known in the industry. He has had a career that has seen him at adidas, Mizuno and Fila, before coming to Under Armour. We interviewed Chris by sending him a set of questions, which he replied to today.
I think it gives the reader some insight into the absolutely tough competition in running footwear.We have also included several of the models of Under Armour's running footwear as well:
RBR. The popularity of the Under Armour brand, and its success in apparel, has that put extra pressure on this launch?
Brewer: The only pressure surrounding this launch was the goal of making perfect shoes for athletes that run to train and athletes that train to run. Under Armour demands the best of its people and its product, so if there was any pressure it was self-induced and drove us to create what we hope are the best footwear solutions for athletes.
RbR. What were your goals with this first wave of running footwear?
Brewer: Our goal was to resonate with all athletes who run. This ranges from succeeding in running specialty stores who cater to the athlete who considers herself a runner first to winning over the athlete who considers himself a team sport athlete, but runs as a part of their fitness regimen and shops in sporting goods or the mall. We wanted to be recognized for a better fit and a great underfoot ride, delivered through FootSleeve and Cartilage. There is no second chance to make a first impression. We are betting that the initial experience with Under Armour Running will create a loyal consumer.
RBR: Tell us about the shoes you have announced, who are they for, in your mind?
Brewer: We’ve built shoes in two categories… Stability and Neutral. These categories cover off the overwhelming majority of runners and allow us to stay focused and deliver against expectations. There are athletes that are bigger and stronger who desire more protection under foot and we’ve built a Protective Stability shoe (the Revenant) and a Protective Neutral shoe (the Apparition) for these athletes. We’ve also built what we call Efficient shoes in each foot-type category (the Illusion in Stability and the Spectre in Neutral) for the athlete that doesn’t demand quite as much protection out of her shoe. And, we’ve built two trail shoes, one stability shoe (the Mirage) and one neutral shoe (the Chimera) for the runner that wants water release and breathability when he goes off the roads.
RBR: What makes Under Armour running footwear unique?
Brewer: We’ve gone about creating unique footwear solutions by concentrating both on the upper and the midsole. Most brands focus on one or the other, but usually never both. We will deliver the most unique and functional upper fit solution to date in running. FootSleeve will deliver better fit, better ventilation and better moisture management. And, of course, we felt we needed to deliver something special underfoot and thusly created Cartilage, which allows for Precision Handling via independent suspension. Cartilage allows for each part of the shoe to work independently while reducing shearing forces and dampening impact forces. Pretty cool to have two unique and compelling innovations during the launch of the category.
RBR: What product is unique to the specialty channel? What product is unique to the Big Boxes, Foot Locker, Dicks?
Brewer: We are going to be the first brand to succeed in all channels of distribution with the same product. We believe there is a runner who shops in running specialty who is already having success in Under Armour apparel and will give us a try because they know we deliver performance in everything we do. And we believe there is an athlete who shops in sporting goods and the mall, who purchases running shoes for the endurance part of his fitness regimen and already believes in Under Armour. We will be able to have our shoes where each athlete shops. We are humble and realize that great product with great service will enable us to have success in each channel.
RBR: I like the design approach to the shoes, how do you realize when you are where you want to be with a shoe?
Brewer: There is a point in the product cycle, whether it is in the design phase or the final line review phase when everyone on the team looks at each other and realizes that the product is exactly what we should deliver to the market. It’s when the intersection of design and function comes together perfectly and nothing feels compromised. It’s a magical moment that sends high-fives and knuckle-bumps around the room. We intentionally went with a clean and bold design philosophy to cut through the sameness and deliver a strong point of view and unique look to the wall of sameness that retailers speak of today. And it is this philosophy that helps us stay on track and deliver what we feel is very Under Armour product.
RBR: In developing a shoe, from idea to final product, there must be comprimises on color, fabric, materials, to reach a certian product price, product quality level. Is that part of the difficulty in making footwear?
Brewer: The first thing that I learned at Under Armour is that there are no compromises. We brief in the product knowing what retail price we are after and we develop the shoe to that end. As Kevin Plank has always said, build a great product. We have no other option.
RBR: Where does Under Armour go from here? Racing flats? Track spikes?
Brewer: The future is ahead of us. We want to look at each season as a chapter in the book and we are writing the book as we go, but the ultimate author will be the consumer. We listen to the consumer at every turn. We will know when it is time to write the next chapter.
RBR: Who is your target?
Brewer: We are a brand that is compelling to a younger consumer and that younger consumer seems to consistently choose our brand. That said, the new Athletes Run campaign and the mantra of the movement we are creating, Make All Athletes Better, speaks to the inclusive nature of our brand. We want all athletes to enjoy the ride of our shoes and the functionality of our apparel. Our target is any athlete who wants to become better, regardless of sport or gender or age or ability level. Period. Full-stop.
UA Run footwear launches at retail on January 31, 2009 and includes four road shoes: the UA Apparition™, UA Illusion™, UA Revenant™, and UA Spectre™, and two trail shoes: the UA Chimera™ and UA Mirage™.
Tomorrow, interview with Steve Battista.
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