The Story Behind Kevin Plank and the Success of Under Armour

Growing up in Kensington, Maryland, Kevin Plank had a passion for sports from an early age playing for the Maplewood Maple Leafs football club. The frustration of playing football with a sweat-soaked t-shirt is what birthed the idea of creating moisture-wicking athletic apparel. He worked his way from his grandmother’s basement in Washington, DC, armed with an ambitious dream and some locally purchased fabric, and worked hard to get his products to the sports apparel industry’s top ranks.

Born on August 13, 1972, in Maryland, Plank’s father was a land developer and his mother, the town mayor. He graduated from St. John’s College High School, obtained his BA and MA in Business Administration from the University of Maryland. It was while at the university that Plank launched various businesses and led to the birth of the Under Armour brand at the age of 24. He was still in his Grandma’s house when he signed his first deal with the NFL as their official supplier for the NFL Europe League.

How Did Kevin Plank Come Up with the Under Armour Name?

It will surprise you to know that ‘Under Armour’ is not the first concept that Plank had for his brand; he had several before settling on it. He first considered calling the company Heart, from the thought that one wears their heart on their sleeve, but the patent and trademark negotiations did not go through. He then considered Body Armor as the perfect name, but the name was already being used by some body shops and ballistic vest manufacturers in New Jersey.

At the point when he was feeling dejected, his big brother made a comment and jokingly asked, “How’s that company you’re working on, uhh…Under Armor?” He filled the patent and trademark paperwork again with that name and added the U in Armour, and the application sailed through.

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The Under Amour Story

Plank created the first shirt, “The Shorty” prototype, was soft, skin-tight, stretchy, and wicked sweat faster than any other product out there. The revolutionary t-shirt kept athletes dry, cool, and light. The year 1996 marked the beginning of Plank’s success story, with under $20,000 that he had saved from selling t-shirts at the concerts. 

A year after founding the company, he would be in a $40,000 credit card debt and broke. He would then move from sending shirts to his friends who were playing professional football to pass them out to others in the locker rooms, to selling 500 shirts that generated $17,000 in his first sale to Georgia Tech. 

The end of year two had seen him sell products worth $100,000 to NFL football teams, and when the product started being carried by teams and retailers, his business took off to become a multi-million-dollar business. Under Armour now has retail sales that range about $2BB, has over 5,900 employees, and its headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. They have also expanded on the product line to include sports and casual apparel, footwear, toiletries, and sports equipment.

The Under Armour Brand Moments Through the Years

1996 – The first prototype of the keep-you-cool shirt that wicked sweat fast was made.

1997 – Under Armour introduced the now-famous ColdGear fabric for cold season wear, to keep athletes warm, dry, and light. They also introduced the All Season Gear that kept athletes comfortable with the hot and cold extremes.

1998 – Under Armour made the big move from Kevin’s grandmother’s house in Georgetown, Washington, DC, to Baltimore. This has been the company’s headquarters and warehouse ever since.

1999 – Under Armour supplied its product for the Any Given Sunday film by Oliver Stone. The football team in the min scenes wore their apparel and accessories, and the athletes took notice, and it brought them a big business break.

2000 – The Under Armour team chose to forego their paychecks to buy their first half-page print ad in ESPN the Magazine, a move that generated a $750,000 increase in sales.

2001 – Under Armour was the official National Hockey League supplier, inked deals USA Baseball, Major League Baseball, and retail partners.

2002 – Launched the first line of performance underwear made of breathable, stay-put, stretch material.

2003 – Their first national television ad, Protect This House, establishing Under Armour as the next generation’s authentic voice, introducing the “WILL” concept.

2004 – Under Armour became the official outfitter of Maryland’s university athletics. The University where the Under Armour Idea was born.

2005 – The Under Armour company went public under “UARM,” trading as NASDAQ.

2006 – The company introduced its 1st footwear cleats, managed to capture a 23% market share within the 1st year, and became the official NFL footwear supplier. 

2007 – Under Armour opened its first Brand House retail store in Annapolis, Maryland. 

2008 – Entered the athletic footwear market and revealed the performance trainers in a Super Bowl Commercial (their 1st).

2009 – Launched their first performance footwear line.

2010 – Under Armour surpassed $1 billion annual revenue, an occasion Kevin Plank by signing the milestone box.

2011 – Under Armour developed Charged Cotton fabric that is soft and comfortable and dries faster than regular cotton.

2012 – Developed the Armour Bra for women athletes that offered comfort and support.

2013 – Introduced the ColdGear Infrared with thermos-conductive lining to help athletes stay warmer for longer.

2014 – Introduced the Speedform Apollo footwear brand of running shoes.

2015 – Under Armour acquired Endomondo, MapMyRun, and MyFitnessPal to build the world’s largest fitness community.

2016 – Introduced the UA SpeedForm Gemini 2 Record Equipped smart shoe for an untethered running experience.

2017 – They created a sleep system that powered recovery using body energy to restore muscle and promote better sleep.

2018 – Introduced the pinnacle cushioning system for their footwear that absorbs impact and pushes you back up.

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