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How Virtual Prototyping Helped Under Armour Speed Up Samples

Desperate times often call for desperate measures. But they can also lead to innovation.

That was the case at Under Armour when the activewear brand decided to scrap its Fall 2015 women’s collection and start over from scratch, mere weeks before its sales meeting.

Under Armour has been known for men’s product for a long time, but the women’s business is still a new area of focus for us. We knew we needed to change the line and we wanted to refocus because we didn’t feel like [what we had] was good enough. But we also knew we had run out of time to get the prototypes in house in time,” recalled Lisa Struble, vice president of apparel development and quality, speaking last week at Product Innovation Apparel in New York City.

So, eight weeks before its Fall ’15 sales meeting, Under Armour turned to Optitex, a 3-D virtual prototyping provider with clients spanning Scott Sports to Theory.

“We didn’t have a plan. We didn’t have an ROI in mind. We didn’t have a budget. We just picked up the phone and talked about what we needed and what they could do for us,” Dunbar continued, noting that the process was as easy as providing Optitex with a palette of colors and prints, down to the jacquard on the elastic. “We decided that this crisis was going to be our opportunity—and we brought virtual samples to our sales meeting instead of physical samples for the first time ever.”

Since then, Under Armour has expanded its use of 3-D across men’s, women’s, boys’ and girls’ product development. The technology has helped to reduce the number of redesigns and greatly improved first-round samples.

Take the UA Fly-By women’s running short, for instance. It’s one of the brand’s biggest market drivers. Struble said using virtual prototypes has allowed the design team to accelerate the work flow.

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“By being able to create things in 3-D we were able to send [designs] back and forth within hours, to go through multiple iterations,” she offered. “It’s about being able to make decisions earlier without waiting weeks to get the sample in from the factory.”

Under Armour has also built up a library of 3-D fit blocks that have already been approved physically and which can be reiterated over and over, virtually, with different graphics, colors and prints.

“How many times have you waited 45 days to get a garment in only to realize the scale is completely wrong?” Struble asked the audience, many of whom nodded in agreement. “How’s the placement of a graphic going to look across all sizes? We can see all of this now virtually.”

What Under Armour wants to do next

Jami Dunbar, vice president of apparel and virtualization, shared that while Under Armour is still largely focused on using 3-D in product development, the plan is to roll it out to product lifecycle next. The company is also still using physical garments and live models to test things like compression (to see if a product delivers the right amount of squeeze). But it’s hoping to build up enough trust in the tool that it can one day be done virtually, too.

“One way that we’re finding more buy-in across the organization is we’re not looking at [3-D] as taking things away from people. We’re not taking all of their physical samples away. We’re giving them more options early before we get to the physical sample,” Struble stressed, adding, “Our teams feel they’re able to see way more options in the virtual than they ever see in the physical. It’s an additional thing that people would not have been able to see otherwise. If you’re going to roll in with 80 percent of your samples versus 100 percent but 20 percent are virtual it becomes this additional tool that people fall in love with it. We’re able to show more, earlier, and that’s where we’re getting the buy-in.”