Why Under Armour Debuted a Collection At Fashion Week

September 15, 2016, 7:11 PM UTC
Courtesy of Under Armour

Under Armour debuted a collection at New York Fashion Week for the first time in the brand’s history, a bet that it can elevate beyond traditional sportswear with a line of more luxurious—and pricier—tops, jackets, and tights.

At a warehouse in the Seaport neighborhood of Manhattan, the Baltimore-based athletic-gear maker showed off a Tim Coppens-designed line that featured a $349 transparent parka, $449 tailored sportscoat and leggings that will retail for $179. The collection’s highest price-point item is a $1,500 wool, camouflage trench coat. The line—which includes men’s and women’s apparel, as well as footwear and accessories—is a purported “modern take on fashion-driven performance sportswear.” The neutral-colored line, with just a few hints of orange, is a more tailored and fashionable approach to sportswear.

“It is no secret that the fashion business has come closer to sport, and sport has come closer to fashion,” Ben Pruess, senior vice president of sportswear at Under Armour (UA), told Fortune at the event. “In this line, we try to have the perfect marriage of both.”

The collection is essentially Under Armour’s bid to move beyond the “athleisure” trend that has driven apparel sales the past few years. Because consumers are more willing to wear athletic gear while out on errands, at nightclubs and bars, and even to the office, sales have been particularly hot for Under Armour, Nike (NKE), Adidas, and others. But with that success comes copycats—H&M, Urban Outfitters (URBN), department stores, and even luxury brands have jumped onto the bandwagon.

Because no fashion trend can last forever, Under Armour and its rivals must think about what’s next. How can Under Armour—which debuted 20 years ago by selling sweat-resistant shirts that generated just $17,000 in first-year sales—elevate the brand beyond its humble beginnings?

To start, Under Armour earlier this year announced fashion designer Tim Coppens would serve as executive creative director of a new collection called UAS, which stands for Under Armour Sportswear. Coppens will oversee the creative vision of the new line, which debuts at Barneys New York, e-commerce partner Mr. Porter, and Under Armour’s Brand Houses in New York and Chicago (as well as in Boston this November).

A look from Under Armour's new fashion line.
Courtesy of Under Armour
Courtesy of Under Armour

Under Armour contends the brand was never really meant to be seen as “athleisure”—which it sees as a more passive attitude toward fashion. “This line is about people who are active,” says Pruess. “Why should I have to make a decision between good fashion or comfort? Or beautiful tailoring and mobility? Why can’t I have both?”

Under Armour isn’t the only brand trying to look at what’s next after “athleisure.” Lululemon (LULU) has a testing lab where its designers are thinking less about athletic pursuits and more about life in the city. Adidas late last month debuted a new business unit it is calling “Athletics,” which is positioned to bridge the gap between athletes’ style and their on-field performance (again a nod toward evolving beyond athleisure). And both Adidas and Puma have partnered with big celebrities—Kanye West and Rihanna, respectively—to evolve their brands even further into the world of high-end fashion.

That begs the question: Can Under Armour—which generally is priced under Nike and Adidas in traditional athletic wear—convince shoppers to spend more on the Under Armour Sportswear collection when their traditional price points have never been so high? The team says it the new collection has aspirational price points, but it isn’t reaching for the stars.

“We like to think we are an attainable luxury,” says Pruess. “This about planting a flag, and gives the brand more leverage to fill in the rest of that runway.” That $1,500 Under Armour coat? Pruess says a luxury fashion house offering sold at Barney’s would retail closer to $5,200.

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