Will Power

steve battista under armourAt Under Armour, says brand chief Steve Battista, innovation is a lifestyle choice. By Tim Manners. Like so many other long-shot teams, Under Armour did time as a cellar dweller. In founder Kevin Plank’s case, this wasn’t figurative. He really did start what is today a $2 billion enterprise in his grandmother’s basement. As a subterranean entrepreneur, Kevin faced both trials and trivialities. Stymied because 800-numbers had too many digits to spell out ‘Under Armor,’ he added an extra ‘u’ to the name. Problem solved. No big deal.

The real deal was that Kevin hated the cotton T-shirt under his University of Maryland football uniform. It got soaking wet. It felt icky. But he knew it didn’t have to be that way, having heard something about the moisture-wicking properties of ladies’ lingerie. Any sweat evaporated quickly, keeping the wearer cool and dry. He got himself some of that fabric and stitched away in his grandma’s basement until he got it exactly right. Smart, resourceful and tenacious, yes — but becoming a brand also meant finding a voice. That’s where brand chief Steve Battista came in. Under Armour was the underdog, going up against the likes of Nike and Adidas. Promoting the moisture-wicking properties of feminine fabrics wasn’t going to cut it.

The answer came in the form of a testosterone-drenched question: ‘Will You Protect This House?’ And the emphatic, now-iconic response: ‘I Will!’  That was back in 2002, when the relatively humble goal was simply to play with the giants. Today, Kevin Plank makes no secret that he’s way past joining them. He wants to beat them. This means going global, starting with a wildly experiential store in Shanghai. It means expanding the base beyond tough guys to include women. It means, most of all, stoking ostensibly insane innovation in footwear … such as a running shoe that fits like a brassiere. You read that right. Like so many other successful companies, innovation at Under Armour is not just about having better ideas. It’s not enough to have forever changed the way athletes suit up. At Under Armour, innovation is an attitude. And it is relentless. continue

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