Underdog no more

With sportswear getting time in the limelight on the fashion runways, American sports brand Under Armour has picked an opportune time to expand its presence globally.

And it is making inroads into Singapore in an aggressive way.

It burst onto the scene in May with its first store at Orchard Gateway. Then in August, it opened a second and third stand-alone store at Collyer Quay and Tampines One all within a week.

Becoming a global brand is high on the brand's founder and chief executive Kevin Plank's (photo) to-do list.

Ninety per cent of its sales comes domestically from the United States, but Mr Plank aims to have more than half of it come from its international markets.

In addition to Singapore, the Baltimore-based brand has also opened stores in the Philippines, Brazil and Chile this year.

Despite it being his first trip to Singapore, the 42-year-old "warmed" up to the city very quickly when he visited last week.

"I took a run at the Botanic Gardens and along the Singapore River, and sweated so much. Being here reminds me of why I started Under Armour to begin with," says the Maryland native.

Tired of having to change out of his sweat-soaked cotton T-shirt several times a day, the former University of Maryland American football player decided to find a solution and created form-fitting, sweat-wicking shirts. This went on to become the brand's first product in 1996.

Eighteen years on, what started as a male-dominated brand for American football gear now also offers apparel, footwear and accessories for women and children across various sport disciplines.

Prices range from $12 for a pair of socks to $199 for a pair of shoes.

Earlier this year, it launched a new line of running shoes, the SpeedForm ($169), which was designed in an apparel factory. It has no seams, making it unique among sports shoes, and is made of a soft material which clings to the wearer's skin comfortably.

Mr Plank points out that in the United States, the brand is still widely perceived as an apparel-only brand.

"The good news about going into a new market is that you're not encumbered by the way consumers see you or, frankly, how you see yourself," says the father of two.

WOMEN FIRST

Under Armour may have its roots in men's apparel, but its growth will be shaped by its women's business.

Although it has had a women's line since 2003, it is riding on the recent athletic fashion trend to make a bigger push into this segment.

"Women are dressing as if they are going to the gym even when they're not," notes Mr Plank.

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