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How Under Armour Is Winning With Women in Basketball — and Why That Impacts Its Efforts in Other Sports

Under Armour revealed its Hovr Breakthru basketball sneaker in the fall of 2020, a shoe that was developed for women, by women. A year later, the athletic giant has returned with the second court-ready shoe in the franchise.

At the start of the month, with the WNBA playoffs just underway, Under Armour delivered the Flow Breakthru 2, an updated iteration of its predecessor featuring some of the brand’s newest innovations. Most notably, the look was built with Flow tech, which allows Under Armour to remove the traditional rubber outsole and eliminate an extra layer of glue to giving the wearer longer lasting comfort.

Beyond the addition of Flow, the shoe — which is available now via UA.com and Dickssportinggoods.com for $120 —  was made to be lightweight and offer improved grip for today’s positionless player.

Under Armour FLow Breakthru 2
Under Armour Flow Breakthru 2.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Under Armour

The release of the Flow Breakthru 2 is emblematic of Under Armour’s continuous efforts to cater to women athletes. Brand executives confirmed this cause will be ramped up in future seasons.

“In addition to innovating and designing specifically for women and girls, Under Armour employs a number of internal and external initiatives that support our female focused performers directly in their communities. To break down barriers that girls often face when playing or considering playing sports, we developed initiatives like She Who Plays with Good Sports and our partnership with The Girls Opportunity Alliance to advocate for and create access to girls nationwide,” Under Armour chief people officer Tchernavia Rocker told FN.

With the WNBA Finals here, FN spoke with Breakthru 2 senior footwear designer Jessie Benjamin and Katie Lau, Under Armour global product director for train and recover footwear, about the company’s success with women ballers and how that carries over into other categories. 

Under Armour has long catered to women athletes of all levels. What has this shown your female consumer base?

Jessie Benjamin: “Making products for her sends her the signal that she matters, that we’re taking her into consideration when we build our products from the last on outward.”

Katie Lau: “The industry secret that’s not so secret is that a majority of models start with men’s sample size nine. The unique thing that we do is we have women’s product that starts in women’s-specific sizing with testing in addition to our co-gender products. We’re starting with her and we’re making sure that when we’re providing feedback, both in terms of briefing and design, that she’s at the heart and the core of our decision making so we’re not leaving any feedback on the table. With everything from how we interact with her biomechanically to how we gather consumer insight, we’re really hearing her versus providing her with product and asking her what color she likes. It’s more about understanding the build from the inside out.”

Is there something about basketball that makes it easy for Under Armour to speak directly to women?

JB: “The female basketball consumer is so vibrant and such a fun consumer to design around. We saw an opportunity within the line and started to jump on it. There were a lot of vocal female players and we were getting feedback from all different types of outlets, and she was very specific on what she was looking for and what she’s not getting. It was just a clear opportunity that there was something that we can do for her to make her experience better.”

What has the response been to the Breakthru franchise, as well as Under Armour’s broader efforts in basketball?

JB: “It’s been really positive. Overall, the feedback has been great. I think there’s a really strong appreciation for the fact that we’re making this effort and really considering asking them what they want and working so closely with people in the field. We are getting feedback from players in high school, our WNBA players and everything in between. It has been great. Having the opportunity to speak so closely and directly to them and getting their feedback and trying to build the best shoe that we possibly can based off of that feedback has been a pretty amazing and fun journey for myself. I played basketball when I was younger in high school, not so much as an adult, but I remember not being able to find shoes that fit properly and having a lot of the same feedback that these players have. Being able to actually address that has been really fun. It all started from the beginning, trying to build around the feedback that we’re getting and addressing it through the last and then through the construction, making sure we can achieve something that’s a little bit lighter, a little less stiff and had a great fit and also a good aesthetic.”

KL: “Internally with our cross-functional team, across design and development and the color and materials teams, we had teammates who played rugby or field hockey who were very much involved because they have gone through situations through high school and/or college where the product they were picking up was either youth product that wasn’t built for them or it was men’s-specific product. We wanted to make sure we were thinking about the external feedback, as well as understanding the great focused performer and athletes that we have internally, and show consistency to make sure there’s repeatable opportunity for people and that they know Under Armour is a place that cares about and empowers those who strive for more.”

Under Armour FLow Breakthru 2
Under Armour Flow Breakthru 2.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Under Armour

What were the biggest advancements from the Breakthru 1 to the Breakthru 2?

JB: “The great opportunity for us was to integrate Flow into the design. With Flow, we were able to address some of the things that she was asking for: having a lighter weight, something with really great grip and as well as a little bit more flexibility built in within the shoe. Flow is the greatest advancement from the one to the two. And then we also built in a little more support into the upper, that was also something that players were looking for.”

What competitive advantage, if any at all, does your focus on women athletes offer Under Armour in a marketplace that primarily focuses on men?

KL: “I don’t know if it’s a competitive advantage, but it has pushed us to raise the bar and elevate all discussions, so when we’re reviewing anything from color to material to design, we’re asking about her. And I think the interesting thing is we do have a strong representation of women within footwear at UA, which has been part of what spurred the conversation early on. It’s also knowing that team sports, as well as individual sports, is a place we believe in having a better playing field for her and a want to bring her to the forefront, which spans into product. It gives us a bit of an advantage, and it also motivates us to push for what’s next.”

How has your success in basketball inspired or informed what you create for women in other categories?

KL: “We started in basketball and we’re spanning to volleyball, we’re spanning into other spaces. I think there’s something to be said that we have volleyball players who play basketball and vice versa, so we’re thinking about inclusivity and the crossover factor. The consumer is also somebody who is very much informed in terms of innovation, and she can see through certain things. There’s only so many times that you can try to trick a consumer into thinking it’s built for them, so for us, we want to be authentic to ourselves and true to the products that we’re creating. Basketball gave us a unique space to start thinking about the team sport athlete, and it’s led to further discussions, which we’ll see as a strategy in terms of women and the investment into ‘22 and ‘23.”

What are the other footwear categories that Under Armour can best design for women and speak to the female athlete?

KL: “All categories, if I’m being perfectly honest. We’re working on the roadmap that you’ll see come to life with other team sports and individual sports all across next year. Some of the products you’ll see in SS ’22 I won’t speak to, but keep an eye on the investment in International Women’s Day and the collection that will come to life there because it’ll show the expanded scope and perspective we have for her, as well as going down to girls and thinking about various ages and various sizes. Team sports is very much the start of the brand, and is something that we take seriously, and we’ll span to run and into train, knowing that many of the athletes in team sports, people who play field hockey, rugby, basketball, etc., may be doing things like, ClassPass, Peloton, etc.”

BEST GROUP Photo by Angelo Lanza Sponsored By ITA

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