Under Armour SPINE: The Premiere
Innovation in the athletic footwear industry is key to growth. The development of new ways and methods to engage consumers is a crucial part of being able to grow and maintain business – in essence, it’s investing your future. We’ve seen what brands like Nike and adidas have done when they devote their attention to making their brands better — they grow and gain new love (when the product is of high quality). For Under Armour, still a relative new jack in the footwear industry, they have been able to get by on having the right kinds of product that are suitable to perform and have taken steps to make what is of industry standards to be synonymous with their name, but on June 20, 2012, UA decided to debut a new kind of product that could help re-format the brand as a technology innovator. That product turned out to be UA’s latest creation — SPINE.
Fortunately for me, I was able to attend the debut of SPINE and capture the entire scene and ambiance of the event surrounding UA’s latest technical innovation. Some of you may have seen the growingly ubiquitous commercial, featuring Charlotte Bobcat Kemba Walker, Olympic medal-winning skier Lindsey Vonn, and Super Bowl-winning New England Patriot Tom Brady, and may have thought, “Just what is SPINE?” Truthfully, SPINE (also UA SPINE) is a sole system inspired by the mechanics of the human spinal column. A fusion of a dual-density cushioning platform and a foot fit stabilizing unit, SPINE is a marriage of two lightweight foams that are molded together as a kind of chassis that work in unison to enhance performance through the responsiveness of the SPINE’s Micro G cushioning and the flexibility of the chassis’ lateral and medial voids (more on this in my UA SPINE Running performance review) — the main emphasis of the technology rests on light weight and structure, which are the definitive characteristics of SPINE.
Among the speakers for the event were Walker, Vonn, and Brady, but also founder and CEO of Under Armour, Kevin Plank; flanking him were Gene McCarthy, Senior Vice President of UA Footwear; and David Dombrow, Senior Creative Director of UA Footwear. Along with capturing pictures of the event, I was able to conduct short interviews with Walker and McCarthy to get their feel for the company’s latest innovative product (no easy feat with a booming techno-trance soundtrack booming in the background…).
First up is Walker, who though not a man of many words, opined about his experience, not only as a first-year player in the NBA, but also having been in Under Armour footwear for the first time ever on the court; this is followed by McCarthy, who graciously carved out a corner of space to speak with me about how Under Armour is taking footwear in a new direction.
CounterKicks: Since you’ve been with Under Armour, how do you feel that your performance has improved?
Kemba Walker: I think it improved a lot. They have great products, for off-the-court and on-the-court. Whenever a certain part of my foot is not comfortable, they fix it right away, and so, it’s a perfect company for me. They work really hard, just like myself, and it’s a dream company, obviously.
CK: Do you feel like your in-game conditioning in Under Armour helped in this 66-game season? Do you feel like you’re fresher in Under Armour?
KW: Yeah, I feel that their sneakers are great! It’s a new company, as far as basketball sneakers are concerned, but they’re great. I wore Nike my whole career, but switching to Under Armour has been great. Like I said, they work really hard to get my shoes right.
CounterKicks: What was your motivation in designing the SPINE?
Gene McCarthy: So, first of all, the idea is, “We need to get noticed in this industry.” Kids are very, very loyal to their shoe companies and they don’t even know that we make shoes, never mind that we make compelling shoes, so we wanted to get noticed. So, instead of just approaching it traditionally, and say, “Well, there’s lightweight shoes in the market and there’s structured shoes in the market,” we looked at it as, “How can we mimic both of those, but only do it with one item, with one product.” So, that was the inspiration for SPINE.
And then what we decided was, “How can we have a fat-free design? How do we have just the structure and support, exactly where you need, when you need it, and then have the agility and flexibility in the shoe exactly when you need it, where you need it?” and that was really it. This is a very, very well-engineered shoe, and then with great designers, we also have a chance to make it look good, too, which is not a small point.
CK: With the revolution of the “lightweight” initiative with adidas and “The Air Revolution” that started way back in ’88 with Nike, do you think that Under Armour introducing the SPINE technology will maybe eclipse all those other technologies and brands that have had those technologies built-in for years? Do you think this is something that’s going to be a main thing?
GM: I think what we will be recognized for by our competitors, hopefully, is that we chose to look at this from a unique perspective, rather than the traditional perspective. I think it might make other companies think about their definition, so, the definition of lightweight to me is the absence of sensation — it’s not heavy.
In some companies, lightweight means how many ounces it is. I don’t see kids going into stores with scales, weighing shoes, so until that happens, I’m not gonna go that direction. I just want lightweight to be the absence of sensation. We believe lightweight should be that when you put it on, it becomes part of the best human technology, which is your body.
Sandy Dover is a feature writer and published author, multi-platform consultant, and media producer whose work has been prominently featured and published by Robert Atwan’s “America Now”, Yahoo!, SLAM, ESPN, and STACK. Known primarily for his NBA commentary, he is also noted as an expert in sports product evaluation, footwear and apparel analysis, and in fitness & training as a journalist and consultant. You can find and contact Sandy via his website at about.me/SandyDover.