What is in this article?:
• The first cotton product Under Armour now sells, Charged Cotton, pushed company profits up by 68 percent in the first quarter of 2011.
• What it really took to move quickly from foe to friend was some open and frank discussion between Cotton Incorporated and Under Armour, some very clever and creative product development, and making Under Armour lots of money.
A performance fiber
“Their main message on that day was: We are a performance company. Show us how cotton can be a performance fiber. We want to expand our product line, and we’re interested in cotton.
“After that first meeting, they gave us eight weeks to develop a cotton product they could use in their line of sports apparel products. That’s not atypical as to how other companies develop products, but this was highly accelerated producing a product in eight weeks that usually takes several months, if not years,” Messura says.
“In addition to the highly technical tests we ran on these products, we also conducted wear tests. At the end of the day, no matter how many technical tests we run, the fiber is not going to become an apparel product unless the wearer enjoys wearing clothes made from the process,” he adds.
A number of professional athletes participated in the wear tests, via Under Armour’s marketing and development program. The most important of those wear tests was with Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Under Armour. He wore the cotton products, without employees knowing these were cotton shirts around the office, and he loved the performance of the cotton shirts.
“After the eight week period and in the development process for the next few months, both cotton and Under Armour kept this partnership very much a secret. And, in what for the business world, was a remarkably short process Under Armour went from no cotton products to cotton being a big part of their sports apparel line,” Messura says.
“Under Armour is a huge company that moves quickly — it’s a battleship that moves like a speed boat. We covered a huge amount of ground from concept to product introduction in a short period of time.
“Along the way, we made an effort to educate the company. We took Under Armour executives to cotton farms and cotton gins, even introduced them to a few cotton farmers, as part of our education process,” Messura says.
“From that first meeting on June 9, 2009 until the end of April 2011, Under Armour went from zero cotton purchased to buying enough cotton to manufacture 10 million units of sports apparel clothes. Within three months Under Armour had gone back to their suppliers to re-order more cotton,” he adds.
The introduction of cotton products by Under Armour has influenced other companies to do the same. For example, Puma recently released a line of moisture management products for women golfers. This is an area in which cotton has taken a beating in recent years, Messura says.
“Even with high cotton prices, smart companies, combined with the research and product development programs at Cotton Incorporated, can still find opportunities. The Under Armour story is a tremendously successful story for cotton,” Messura says.