Under Armour's challenge: Reaching women

Performance apparel companies face need to eschew jock culture

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BALTIMORE — After a second consecutive quarter of losses, Under Armour again is talking about remaking itself from a predominantly men’s brand into a business with broad appeal across all categories of consumers.

And CEO Kevin Plank has identified its women’s lines as particularly promising opportunities for growth.

But for a company that was born on the football field, introduced itself with commercials depicting a muscular sort of grit and still is run as a kind of supersized team, the pivot Plank describes will be a challenge.

As the Baltimore-based brand seeks to gain on rivals Nike and Adidas in the global market, analysts said, Under Armour must move beyond its masculine image and — as with other performance apparel companies run largely by male executives — ensure it isn’t perpetuating the kind of jock culture that excludes the half the population that purchases most apparel.

“The sports industry is and always has been a male-dominated industry,’ said Matt Powell, an industry analyst for the NPD Group. “Consequently the sports industry has struggled in growing the women’s business” — and is leaving “a significant amount of business on the table.”

Under Armour says 48 percent of its global workforce of more than 14,000 are women, and females account for about 25 percent of its vice presidents. The numbers of women thin out markedly near the top. Kerry Chandler, the chief human resources officer, is the lone female listed among the 11 executive officers on the company’s investor relations web page. Two of the company’s 10 directors are women.

“The industry is male-dominated,” said Adrienne Lofton, Under Armour’s senior vice president for global brand management. “And that is a hangover from many, many years of sort of the old standard of what it looks like to live and work in sports.

“What we’re focused on is the company and what we can do to continue to drive numbers in a place that feels more balanced and reflects the consumers that we serve.”

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