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Can Tapered Fits and Fabric Science Improve Under Armour’s Sales?

Under Armour is taking its men’s style quotient up a notch next season, with fitted tops and tapered bottoms designed to easily transition from sweat session to street.

“In the past, everyone knew Under Armour as a loose-fit brand but the new direction is fitted and you’ll see that now through fitted tops and shorter inseam shorts,” John Canale, design director for men’s training, told Sourcing Journal at the brand’s Spring/Summer ’17 press preview in New York City on Thursday. “So we’ve raised the inseam and tapered things in but we’re still focused on mobility and comfort. We’re just modernizing the fit.”

Take the men’s 2020 run pant, for example.

“It has this amazing tapered fit but you still have maximum mobility, seam lines are articulated to allow for a lot of movement in the knee and then there’s also darting,” he said, pointing to leather-like mesh at the back of the leg that’s not only a cool accent but also offers ventilation. “This is where we’re offering performance with a little bit of a lifestyle edge. This guy can go out on a run but still go to and from and not look like he’s running a marathon.”

The Baltimore-based brand’s biggest push next season: Threadborne, a new fabric technology micro-engineered after Under Armour’s material innovators examined the weave construction of a parachute’s paracord. Threadborne fabric comprises a spun polyester combined with a filament polyester, which provides a soft, cotton-like hand feel. The yarns are dyed during a seamless knitting process, giving the fabric a space-dye effect. Threadborne will debut in the spring in a men’s long-sleeve and short-sleeve crewneck T-shirt, priced from $29.99.

Under Armour Threadborne
Under Armour Threadborne, layered under 2020 vest

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After introducing it in Spring/Summer ’16, Under Armour is applying its CoolSwitch technology—a xylitol coating on the inside of fabric—to singlets, shorts and even running shoes in 2017.

“Xylitol is actually what’s in chewing gum,” Canale said, noting that the same icy freshness offered by mint gum is generated by the wearer’s body movement. “So as you heat up you feel that cooling effect which allows you to go further while staying as comfortable as possible.”

Under Armour’s compression garments get a makeover next season, too, with the HeatGear Armour Zone Compression short-sleeve top ($74.99) and legging ($89.99).

“Two things make this unique: one, it’s an air-vent construction so you’ve got 360-degree ventilation, and two, it’s woven compression,” Canale explained, pointing out that most compression garments are knit fabrics. “This is a stretch woven, so that creates a really great squeeze with the durability of a woven.”

Another key design quirk: the ventilation holes are built in while the fabric is being woven, instead of perforation being applied later.

“It’s going to provide more breathability. And being woven over knit, woven is not going to hold moisture the same way that a knit would,” he added.

Thursday’s press preview came on the heels of Under Armour’s latest quarterly results. Despite double-digit gains in all product categories in the quarter ended Sept. 30, the brand’s sales growth in North America slowed to 16 percent, after increases of 22 percent in Q2 and 26 percent in Q1. Perhaps fabric innovations such as Threadborne and CoolSwitch can turn the tide back in Under Armour’s favor.