Self-described underdog Under Armour makes no secret of the failures it overcame to snatch market share from Nike and Adidas. But now that it’s a major player in the active apparel and footwear world, why isn’t the Baltimore-based brand keeping quiet about what’s happening behind the scenes at its Lighthouse innovation center?
It’s simple: “We are truly interested in advancing manufacturing,” stressed Jami Dunbar, vice president of apparel and virtualization at Lighthouse, speaking Tuesday at Fashion Forward, an industry event hosted by Lectra in Bordeaux, France. “Our interests are shared among everyone in this room.”
Dunbar described the 35,000-square-foot Lighthouse, which opened this past June in South Baltimore’s City Garage, as both a “beacon for brand vision” and a “secret weapon for revolutionizing how all products are made.”
It’s where Under Armour works alongside organizations and academia, including the University of Maryland’s Engineering Department, the Dow Chemical Company, Huntsman, Lectra, Vernis, Epson, Desma and 3dmd, to drive innovation in product and process technology in order to create a brand-new manufacturing model.
In a nutshell, the Lighthouse will provide Under Armour’s designers, developers and external partners with the physical space, tools and technology necessary to create, build and push the boundaries of what is possible in their shared mission to make better products for all.
Not only will this model be used to build small production runs and exclusive collections on-site, it will be used to help launch several partner factories in the U.S. next year. Under Armour also plans to roll it out to other factories all over the world.
“By leveraging the tools and technology we have in the Lighthouse to enable great design, we push the boundaries of what’s possible and work smarter by reducing waste and building more intelligence,” Dunbar said. “It offers us a much deeper understanding of what factories are capable of and unleashes completely new levels of possibility.”
That’s how Under Armour plans to build the pathway for local-to-local manufacturing: building product where the brand intends to sell it and cutting down total development time to between three and six months.
“It no longer makes sense to chase low-cost labor all over the world. Reshoring is reality for us,” she said. “Once we have a more efficient process in place, we can start thinking like entrepreneurs, and product quality is higher, the supply chain is agile and we can think about scale and customization.”
Despite the fact that Lighthouse only opened its doors for the first time a few months ago, Under Armour is already working on the next one.
“We’re currently in a temporary location what we thought would be three to five years, but we know we’ll outgrow it before then,” Dunbar revealed, adding that the facility currently employees about 40 people. “We’re already planning the next Lighthouse, right in Baltimore.”