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Under Armour Founder Kevin Plank Reveals How the Brand Is Finding Its Identity in Footwear

Under Armour Kevin Plank Michael Atmore FN CEO Summit 2023 The Ritz-Carlton South Beach Miami Beach Florida
Under Armour founder Kevin Plank (L) with Fairchild Media Group chief brand officer Michael Atmore at the 2023 FN CEO Summit.
Justin Namon for Footwear News

There’s plenty of newness at Under Armour nowadays. For instance, the Baltimore, Md.-based company announced last December that it hired Marriott International executive Stephanie Linnartz as its next president and CEO. Also, construction is underway on the athletic giant’s new campus in the city.

However, one of the more compelling stories from the brand isn’t new — its nearly two-decade journey in footwear.

Yesterday, in conversation with Fairchild Media Group chief brand officer and FN editorial director Michael Atmore during the FN CEO Summit, Under Armour founder Plank addressed this journey and the challenges the company has faced.

“When people say they’re going to get into athletic, they typically mean they’re going to start a screen-printing company and come up with a slogan on a sweatshirt or something that’s brought in from overseas. Footwear, you’ve got to be real,” Plank said at the event, which was held at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach in Miami.

Plank, who is now Under Armour’s executive chair and brand chief, detailed the company’s timeline in footwear, which began in 2006, 10 years after launching the brand. The first category Under Armour ventured into was football cleats.

“We had 6-foot-5, 250-pound athletes putting maximum torque into our product, and we basically learned how shoes can actually blow out with some of the early problems we had,” Plank said.

After working to make functional football cleats, Under Armour then ventured into baseball cleats in 2007, followed by training shoes in 2008, running shoes in 2009 and basketball shoes in 2010.

Along the way, the brand has delivered several noteworthy products. Plank named the Highlight football cleats as a win for the brand, as well as the UA Flow Velociti Elite running shoe, which was on the feet of Sharon Lokedi when she won the New York City Marathon in 2022.

But there’s still work to be done.

“Finding our identity for our $1.5 billion footwear business is something that’s important,” Plank said.

And he noted that the brand may have its next statement shoe.

On stage, the exec had on the UA SlipSpeed, a performance training shoe Under Armour introduced in October 2022 that features a convertible heel design. This was created for young athletes who crush the heels of their sneakers and slide them on after a hard workout.

“We think this is one of the new directions and not just a trend in footwear,” Plank said. “We think it’s something that’s here to stay.”

He continued, “This is an innovation that was actually found from young people, watching my daughter come home at night and seeing that all these kids are crushing the back of their heels.”

During the conversation, Plank also addressed why he no longer holds the CEO title at Under Armour. The company’s founder said he felt like the brand got to a place where it was time to change.

“I turned 50 years old this year, which is a milestone in its own right, and I started the company when I was 22, 23 years old, so Under Armour is all I’ve known. I need to keep perspective that this is different than people who come from other experiences and other backgrounds,” Plank said, adding that celebrating diversity of thought and experience is important to the company.

As part of the internal changes within Under Armour, Plank said a restructuring has been taking place over the past five to six years. And he took a moment to praise the company’s new CEO when discussing the current leadership structure at Under Armour.

“She’s like this incredible professor,” Plank said of Linnartz. “Her intellectual curiosity is so strong.”

Plank also shared what he calls the layers in the company’s “decision lens,” which will inform the moves it makes looking ahead.

“First and foremost, is it going to inspire our team? Decision lens two is ask yourself, will the decision we’re about to make give confidence to our key stakeholders, our shareholders? No. 3 is, will the decision instill fear in our competition? Will it make our competition say, ‘Why didn’t we think of that?’ Unless it’s check, check, check on all three, we’re not going to do it,” he said.

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Founder Kevin Plank on Under Armour Finding Its Identity in Footwear
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