Nominated by: Alvanon | www.alvanon.com
Under Armour is boldly going where no sportswear company has gone before. Earlier this year, it announced a partnership with Virgin Galactic to create a new generation of space apparel and footwear, as well as an astronaut performance program. Under Armour (UA) will be the Technical Spacewear Partner for the company, part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, which is readying to make space flight commercial.
That’s quite an undertaking and makes for quite out- of-this-world news. But the work behind it and behind all apparel and footwear collections built to improve comfort and performance across physically demanding sports and endeavors requires extreme attention to detail across many disciplines, including fabric development, design and development, and manufacturing. It’s not rocket science, but it may as well be. Creating apparel that feels good and fits well is difficult even when it doesn’t have to perform on a field, court — or at zero gravity. When you throw in the need for top performance, the stakes are even higher.
Designing apparel, creating the technical specifications to support the designs, and then translating that into actual apparel that fits well and flows with the body to improve rather than impede movement is a complex process. Designers and technical designers must understand the fine nuances of how bodies move differently during different activities and how certain muscles develop differently within different athletic disciplines. They also must understand how different people may want to wear product differently.
At Under Armour, the road to achieving that understanding and translating it into garments starts with body scanning top athletes in different sports and then analyzing the data to understand how body types differ from sport to sport. “We want to learn what we can from bodies so that we make the best product for all of our athletes,” says Jami Dunbar, vice president, apparel and accessories development and supply chain operations. “We want to understand what makes rugby players rugby players and tennis players tennis players. We want to understand how football players move differently from tennis players, and how people move when they’re practicing yoga.”
When it comes to designing and creating apparel, that process involves many fittings with top athletes in their sport, testing in the real world, fittings on fit forms, and samples flowing between design and sourcing offices, usually continents apart. Sewing samples and sending them back and forth eats up a lot of time and money. In recent years, many companies, including UA, have turned to 3D virtualization to alleviate some of the time and cost of design and development, including, significantly, a reduction in sampling. These tools, however, employ generic avatars not sculpted to a company’s proprietary fits and are limited it terms of their ability to represent fabric drape and body movement.
Recently, Under Armour partnered with Alvanon, which had previously sculpted all of its physical fit forms, to build its fit forms as digital volumetric avatars. Those avatars replicate its proprietary fits and represent the full spectrum of “real” bodies. Significantly, rather than sculpting one base-size avatar and then grading up and down from there — standard industry practice in grading patterns and 3D models — Alvanon developed 3D avatars by size that take into account the individual biometric changes that occur at each. “When we fit product on fit forms across the size scale, it does not always follow a mathematical equation of traditional grading,” says Dunbar. UA worked with Alvanon to understand and define those nuances and embody them in its avatars. “One of the things working in volume allowed us to do is consider a lot of different body shapes,” she says, “whereas previously we were looking at it very one-dimensionally. Now we can move confidently in 3D to fit bodies.”
UA was also an instrumental beta partner in Alvanon’s recent development of the Alvanon Body Platform, which allows brands and retailers to access and share their 3D fit and core body standards with supply chain partners. “Previously, we’d have to find a way to get those avatars to our factories, where each may have been using an independent software. That wasn’t sustainable,” she says.
Soon, UA’s full size run, for all of its end uses and genders, will be available on the platform where its factory partners will have easy access and will be able to produce everything from sportswear to spacewear at light speed.
Image: Stephen Curry UA RUSH
This article was originally published on Apparel 2019 Top Innovators special issue, June 2019.