Thanks to a host of forward-looking companies, gym clothes may have found a place in the fashion world.
As part of Penn Fashion Week, the Wharton Undergraduate Sports Business Club hosted three representatives from Under Armour and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Neal Goldman, John Hardy and David Progar offered a brief history of sports apparel, discussed the relationship between the two companies and described their cooperative marketing process.
Wharton junior Daniel Ortiz, one of the students organizing Fashion Week, said the program as a whole “aimed to educate students about different facets of fashion … to show that fashion transcends the runway.” This year, he added, the program addressed “a more diverse set of interests. We’ve decided to cater to men more.”
“Sports apparel is absolutely part of the [fashion] industry,” said Wharton junior Rob Dearborn, president of USBC. Last night’s event was part of an effort to “bring in a different demographic than Penn Fashion Week usually does.”
Neal Goldman, Under Armour’s category manager for men’s apparel, explained that the athletic apparel market as it exists today is very new. “Under Armour is a very young brand … 10 or 15 years ago, the stuff you were wearing to do intense workouts was cotton or cheap mesh, but now there’s a shift into high-performance textiles.”
Goldman added that the role of athletic apparel in consumers’ lives has also shifted. “Guys are paying 70 dollars for clothes that they’re going to work out in and also wear casually after the fact,” he said.
The guest speakers also touched on the cooperation between Dick’s Sporting Goods and Under Armour in creating new products. Under Armour is dependent on Dick’s to sell its products, but it’s “all about balance and what keeps the lights on for both of us,” Goldman said. “When you have a good relationship, it lets you both take chances.”
Figuring out what will sell best in stores is at the core of all of last night’s speakers’ jobs.
Goldman said that it was “easy to get paralysis by analysis” while looking at statistics, but that the best way to get useful information is to “talk to people in stores, do focus groups. If guys are cutting up shirts to make it sleeveless, should we just go ahead and make a sleeveless shirt?”
David Progar, men’s Under Armour buyer for Dick’s Sporting Goods, added, “We’re trying to get into more aggressive underwear, so who’s buying that? It depends on who’s most comfortable with neon yellow.”
All three speakers agreed that success in fashion, and especially in the athletic apparel market, is dependent — as Under Armour Senior Product Line Manager John Hardy put it— on “thinking about things that no one ever thought of.”
Goldman then poured out his water bottle onto a waterproof Under Armour sweatshirt. “See?” he exclaimed. “I can dump a whole beer on myself, and I’m going to stay dry.”
The guests concluded with advice for members of the audience who hoped to have jobs like theirs someday. Hardy said to “be scrappy … If you have innovative ideas, people are going to notice that.”
Goldman added that while “you may take a roundabout way to end up where you want to end up … it’ll feel pretty good once you get there.”