Under Armour knows how to tell a great story. And much like the company’s marketing efforts instill a will-do spirit in those who wear its activewear, its vision to bring manufacturing back to the United States, dubbed Project Glory, is nothing if not inspirational.
Speaking Tuesday at a Sourcing at Magic keynote session titled “Under Armour’s Innovative Vision: From Local to High-Tech Fashion,” Keith Hoover, vice president of material processes and color innovation at the Baltimore-based brand, outlined a “local for local” business model that quite simply consists of making goods where they will be sold.
The plan, unveiled during its 2015 investor day, is expected to not only change the speed at which products hit the market, but also the costs of production and labor. Lighthouse, a 133,000-square-foot facility that will be the hub of Under Armour’s domestic manufacturing capabilities, is currently under construction and slated to open in 2016.
“Within this coming year we will be producing shoes in the U.S. that are as good if not better than those we make overseas and we’re working on other models for apparel to follow suit,” Hoover shared, adding, “We want to be able to design and produce close to the market both in time and proximity…It may have patriotic elements to it but first and foremost it’s a business story.”
To that end, Under Armour isn’t interested in bringing back the low-tech, labor-intensive jobs that left the U.S. for Asia in the ’90s. Rather the company wants to create a new generation of processes with a primary emphasis on building a new “metavertical” model comprising a series of small manufacturers spread out regionally, not just all concentrated down in the Carolinas or Los Angeles.
“Yarn spinners, knitters, weavers and, most importantly, cut-and-sew or garment construction facilities in small operations regionally spread,” Hoover explained, describing what he foresees as a “fluid relationship” between each region based on the capabilities each one has.
He pointed out that in 2013, nearly 25 billion square meter equivalents (SMEs) of apparel were sold in the U.S., but only 2.5% was made domestically. If just 10 percent of what’s made overseas was reshored, he stressed, the country would have more jobs than it could fill. And with growing political instability in some of the foreign factories where Under Armour and other top U.S. brands are making their goods, not to mention a declining workforce and energy prices that are double what’s stateside, it’s no longer good business sense to make everything on the other side of the world.
“The biggest challenge that any of us will face is being able to think big enough how this is going to work,” Hoover said, adding, “It’s not about survival, but growing at such a fast pace that we will not understand in 10 years how we got by making things the way we do now.”