There’s no denying it – when it comes to athletic performance, Under Armour is top notch. Henry Stafford is the brands SVP of Apparel, Accessories, and Outdoor, where he leads a team of more than 150 members and is responsible for Men’s, Women’s, and youth apparel categories from concept to market including design, innovation, and retail execution. Mr. Stafford has played a critical role in driving and implementing the launch of Under Armour Charged Cotton apparel as well as product innovations such as Charged Cotton Storm and UA coldblack. Here, Stafford walks us through a day in the life of an Under Armour employee and why, in the next few years, their sartorial innovations are about to up the bar on the definition of “premium athletic performance.”
Life+Times: You’re the Senior Vice President of Apparel, Accessories and Outdoor for Under Armour. What exactly does your role entail?
Henry Stafford: I direct and lead a great team whose main goal is to bring innovative product to athletes that help them perform better. My responsibilities reach across multiple categories from women’s, to training, to football, youth, and outdoor and I strive to empower a great team of fabric, print and pattern specialists, engineers, merchants, designers, and product innovators all with the collective goal of making gear that helps make the next generation of athletes better.
L+T: Take me through an average day in your life. What’s it like?
HS: The average day is no average day. Under Armour is a demanding, fast paced, and constantly growing brand so I rarely do the same things day-to-day. I’m charged with blending the art and science of creating and marketing product and to do that I am constantly meeting with athletes, different teams internally and externally including product engineers, designers, consumers, merchants and the innovation team to make sure we are delivering state-of-the-art performance apparel that not only performs, but looks great, feels great, and meets the needs of our athletes.
L+T: What’s your connection to the world of sport – are you an active guy? If so, how important is this to you?
HS: The Under Armour culture is incredibly active, encouraging everything from running, to strength training, to playing team sports. I believe in “practicing what you preach” so we encourage our teams to experience the product, the training, and the mindset of an athlete in order to deliver the athletes great product. We are always inspired to try new things and forms of training because the next generation of athlete is looking for new, better and more innovative ways to perform and gain a competitive edge. Under Armour is a great environment for this, hosting work-outs with top trainers at our on-campus Combine Training Center or testing new product technologies in our innovation lab. At any given time, you will see someone pushing a weighted sled around the campus or running hills so its definitely an environment that fosters activity.
L+T: You lead a team of more than 150 members and are responsible for men’s, women’s, and youth apparel categories from concept to market including design, innovation, and retail execution. How do you keep your ideas and creativity fresh? What elements inspire your designs?
HS: It comes down to having a great team and keeping them inspired. Under Armour is a global brand and inspiration can come from anywhere so traveling the world is a key part of staying creative and inspired. We travel from NY to LA to inner city Baltimore to catch a basketball game or hit Paris, London, Japan, Hong Kong and Brazil taking note of trends, colors, patterns, styles and the environment, all of which provide ideas and concepts to build from. The vision of Under Armour is to empower athletes everywhere and inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere.
L+T: You’ve played a critical role in driving and implementing the launch of Under Armour Charged Cotton apparel as well as product innovations such as Charged Cotton Storm and UA coldblack. How and why did these ideas come to fruition?
HS: Innovation is Under Armour’s number one objective in everything that we do. Our products, design, marketing, and teammates all must be innovative to be successful and to carry the Under Armour name. We accomplish innovation three ways: through our internal teammates, our innovation lab, and through outside partnerships. With Charged Cotton specifically, we saw a need for a better cotton material. We knew that athletes still wore their cotton t-shirts and it was our job to bring them one that provided the comfort of cotton blended with performance attributes like an accelerated dry time and moisture-wicking technology so we partnered with Cotton Inc. to bring Charged Cotton technology to life. UA coldblack came to fruition in a similar manner. We new athletes compete and train outside and they heat up quickly in the sun so we worked with our partner Schoeller Technologies to develop UA coldblack, which is an innovative technology incorporated into the dye-process of the garment that helps keep the garment cooler when exposed to sunlight. At the end of the day, everything we do at Under Armour fulfills our mission to make all athletes better through passion, design, and the relentless pursuit of innovation.
L+T: Under your direction, what’s the long-term goal of the brand? Where is it now and where do you want to take it within the next ten years?
HS: The long-term goal of Under Armour is to empower athletes everywhere. This brand will be a global force, providing athletes of all levels, whether you are a professional athlete, dedicated to working out, or playing on your first team, with state-of-art innovation, performance, and style.
L+T: For a company based on athletic wear, what differentiates Under Armour from other brands?
HS: I think it boils down to two words, innovation and empowerment. We are the brand that prepares you for battle…whether its shaving a second off your 40 time, running that extra mile, loosing that extra pound, or making the commitment to be a healthier person, Under Armour is the brand that will take you there. We don’t want to know what we can help you with, we want to know, ”What do you want to be?” and help you become that athlete or achieve that goal through state-of-the-art product and a community that lives and breathes for the athlete.