A closer look at Under Amour’s first batch of ‘made in the US’ products.

BALTIMORE — In the wake of the inauguration, bringing manufacturing back to the US has been on more than just the president’s mind — it’s also been championed heavily by Under Amour chief Kevin Plank.

Well, somewhere in Baltimore, Plank must surely be smiling: having just opened up UA Lighthouse, their 35,000 square foot R&D facility in the city, last summer, early ROI has already begun. The Washington Post reported that the brand has just started selling its first batch of clothing produced at the facility — and most notably, this marks the firm’s first step towards having more of its products produced not just domestically within the US, but locally within other countries as well (continued below…).

Some quick facts and figures to consider about UA’s early achievement:

  • It’s a small-scale beginning: “Just 2,000 of the garments are available for sale — 1,000 each of the bras and leggings.”
  • The benefits of the facility are immediately clear: “The company says that it was able to operate on a sharply shorter timeline for bringing the gear to market, and it says it believes the Lighthouse setup is cost neutral compared to making clothing overseas.”
  • More on efficiency: “[T]he process for creating garments such as the bra and leggings would typically take 18 to 20 months. For the Baltimore-made pieces, though, it took just three months.”
  • This is because: “[W]hen designers and manufacturers are in the same building instead of on different continents, they can combine their contributions to the supply chain into a single step.”
  • Smart, iterative thinking, part 1: “The company also hopes this setup will generally enable it to work in a more iterative way on clothing, allowing the team to fine-tune pieces after they’ve started to hit stores.”
  • Smart, iterative thinking, part 2: “In the future, Under Armour might ship out a small batch of clothes from Lighthouse and see how customers react to the gear before making tens of thousands of pieces of it.”
  • The end goal: “Ultimately, Under Armour hopes that Lighthouse is a proof of concept for a bigger global initiative to embrace “local for local” manufacturing. In other words, Under Armour gear sold in Brazil would be made in Brazil; gear sold in the United States would be made in the United States, and so on.”

What about the labor force?

“So what kind of labor force was needed to create these garments? After all, jobs going overseas is only part of the reason that the United States’ manufacturing industry has contracted — many such positions have been lost to automation.

The company said some 50 people worked on this particular garment collection, including design, manufacturing, marketing and other roles. Haley said the headcount of workers needed to create the products in Baltimore was “not all that different” from if they were made abroad.

‘It’s not like these are being made by a robot,’ [Kevin Haley, Under Armour’s president of innovation] said. ‘These are being made by human beings using advanced manufacturing methods.'”

Why this matters: In the ongoing conversation about bringing manufacturing back to US shores, the question remains what that future looks like. UA offers a potential path forward and a glimpse of how things could shape up.

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