Under Armour poaches GM design guru for chief innovation officer

March 14, 2017

Dive Brief:

  • Under Armour announced that Clay Dean has joined as chief innovation officer. He will be responsible for driving global strategy and collaboration between the athletic apparel maker's design, marketing, product and category management teams, and will report to Kevin Haley, president of category management and innovation.

  • Dean joins Under Armour after more than 20 years at General Motors, most recently leading the automaker's Global Advanced Design organization. His design portfolio includes leading the strategic creative vision behind several of GM's concept cars, serving as the chief designer that produced the Hummer H2, H2 SUT and H3 programs and exploring GM's future mobility solutions. 

  • Dean may have been chosen in part because he’s a self-described “sneakerhead” and worked with Nike for a collaboration on athletic footwear projects at GM, according to Autoweek. 

Dive Insight:

Under Armour last fall ceded its number two spot in the sports gear space back to Adidas, according to NPD group sports retail analyst Matt Powell. The brand has struggled — North American net sales rose 5.9% during the fourth quarter, a shadow of the average quarterly growth of 24% the retailer has maintained since 2013. Revenue was up about 12% to $1.31 billion, driven by a 5% increase in wholesale revenues to $742 million and a 23% increase in direct-to-consumer revenues to $518 million. That was the narrowest increase in eight years, missing consensus analyst expectations for $1.41 billion. 

Adidas has staked much of its comeback on more stylish streetwear in addition to its traditional sporty offerings, and retail analysts at Jane Hali & Associates recently said that UA should also consider that path. The firm added that Under Armour's move to produce some lines in the U.S. is a good one, though its brick-and-mortar strategy is relying too heavily on outlet stores.

“As we continue to see the athleisure trend evolve and elevate to a cleaner style, UA does lag in having trending athletic items that suit the current fashion cycle,” according to a Jane Hali note emailed to Retail Dive. “The launch of UAS we believe is a foot in the right direction; however, they need to ramp up on more fashion styles in their regular line. In addition the Under Armour brick-and-mortar business is mostly an outlet one, where business is generally off.” (“UAS” refers to the retailer’s new made-in-America line, designed and manufactured in Baltimore.)

Dean, considering his design background and his own love of athletic footwear, could bring a much-needed lift. "Clay brings a unique perspective to Under Armour and deep roots in design, manufacturing and innovation that will be critical in guiding how we make and deliver products now and in the future," Haley said in a statement. "Adding Clay's proven expertise further validates our commitment to meaningfully advance our ability to bring category-defining products and technology to our consumers."

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