Kevin Haley doesn’t pay attention to the competition. As president of product and innovation for Under Armour, he encourages his team to ignore the noise and focus on their own game.
“It’s that old adage that if you follow someone’s footprints in the snow, you’re never going to pass them,” Haley said. “We have to do it differently — we have to do it better.”
Here, Haley talks about new shoe projects, going digital and the power of idea sharing.
1. What’s a typical day like in the Under Armour Innovation Lab?
There is always something different going on. Sometimes we’ve got elite athletes or the military in there, and sometimes we’ve got Under Armour people testing product in the environmental chamber. In the outer ring, where we let people come in, we might have inventors bringing their ideas to us or a team from a Fortune 500 polymer company that has stumbled on a new material they think could be radical for our industry.
2. What new footwear concepts are you working on?
One of the most exciting things we’re focusing on is 3-D printing. We just launched the Architech shoe, [which features] the world’s first commercially avail- able 3-D printed elastomer midsole. Being able to print a lattice structure provides the kinds of benefits you just can’t achieve with a traditional molding process. Also, what’s so promising about the digital realm is how much faster everything moves because you can design and perfect [your concepts] digitally. Whereas other companies have seen their innovation projects take years, we put out our 3-D printed heel cup in just a month.
3. You launched your first smart shoe in February. How important will the wearable tech trend be to your innovation strategy going forward?
It will be a huge piece of it. The beauty of our [Gemini 2 Record Equipped] shoe is how uncomplicated it is. People love that you can go for a run and leave your phone, your watch, everything at home. You can have this untethered experience and really enjoy the run. And when you get back home, all of your [workout] data flows seamlessly to your smartphone or tablet. With this kind of technology, we have much more freedom to explore and improve the user experience.
4. How does your team plan to mine the Connected Fitness community data?
Bottom line, we’ll be able to use it to make better products. We’re collect- ing this immense amount of data and insights from more than 160 million people who are our core consumers and who have self-selected to be in this group because they care about their health and fitness.
For our designers, it’s an amazingly valuable tool that provides a deep, rich understanding of consumers and their behavior, down to the minutest details. We can start to tap into the consumer’s unmet needs and identify problems to solve [through product design]. The community’s also an opportunity to reach new consumers.
5. How critical are R&D competitions such as Future Show in driving product innovation?
The real value of Future Show and having an open platform is scale and leverage. We have about 14,000 employees here who are some of the best in the world at what they do, but it’s just statistically more likely that a great new idea or technology or material will come from one of the billions of people out there working on things — whether it’s someone tinker- ing in their garage or a major chemical company.
We develop a lot internally, but we’re not going to pretend we have a monopoly on great ideas. So we fling open the doors and encourage people to come in and share with us.