Under Armour’s Fashion Faux Pas

Polo Ralph Lauren for Team USA (Photo: Getty) 

Love it or hate it, Polo Ralph Lauren’s Team USA Olympics apparel didn’t have to do much to gain fans. Its “Made in America” label alone thrust the company over the finish line for the gold, especially in comparison to the scandal-plagued Made in China suits Team USA wore last Olympics go-round. As Huffington Post reports in its piece “Olympic Team U.S.A’s ‘Ugly Christmas Sweaters’ Sell Out Immediately Online:”

“Despite the mixed reviews, the $595 sweaters and matching $195 pants have already sold out on Ralph Lauren’s website. For those yearning to wrap their bodies in the chunky knit, however, a select few are selling on Ebay for prices as steep as $3,000.”

Still, the USOC didn’t learn from past mistakes. Its fundraising mittens are still made in China.

Dream Teamer Charles Barkley

Few can argue with the reputational value this (increasing rare) kind of global exposure can offer a fashion designer. I won’t forget working with Reebok on its Olympics apparel sponsorship. (Remember Dan n Dave?) I suppose it was Olympics Dream Teamer Charles Barkley who eloquently summed up his refusal to wear the Reebok-made warm-up suits at the time. I paraphrase: “I’ve got two million reasons not to wear Reebok” (referring, of course, to the lucrative deal he has with his primary sponsor).

The sports apparel companies are eager to prove their medal. This year, Under Armour apeared to have the gold all sewn up through some of the best PR money could buy. It was outfitting the men and women speedskaters in specially-designed suits that had dimples for better aerodynamics. On Christmas eve, the Washington Post quoted one athlete:

“‘This is the fastest speedskating suit ever made, and it will be the fastest speedskating suit, period,’” said U.S. Olympic hopeful Patrick Meek of a suit being designed by Baltimore company Under Armour and Lockheed Martin.”

U.S. Olympic Speedskater Shani Davis In Under Armour Suit (Photo: Reuters) 

Without warning, the company now finds itself in a most uncomfortable position. The Wall Street Journal and others are reporting that the U.S. athletes’ unexpected poor showing (7th place as best U.S. finish) could be due to a design flaw in the new suit. In its piece “Sochi Olympics: Under Armour Suits May Be a Factor in U.S. Speedskating’s Struggles,” The Journal writes:

“According to three people familiar with the U.S. team, these suits—which were designed by apparel sponsor Under Armour and billed before the Games as a major advantage—have a design flaw that may be slowing the skaters down. These people said that vents on back of the suit, designed to allow heat to escape, are allowing air to enter the suit and create drag that keeps the skaters from staying in the “low” position they need to achieve maximum speed. One skater said team members felt they were fighting the suit to maintain correct form.”

Yikes. To its credit, Under Armour quickly made a fix to the alleged flaw, but the damage may already have been done. Frankly, I’m not sure this will have a lasting negative affect on Under Armour’s excellent reputation. Like “Dan n Dave” for which Reebok invested heavily in a marketing campaign to trumpet the pair of Olympic decathletes — until Dan didn’t make the team — this may just end up being one big (and very costly) missed PR opportunity.

1 comment

  1. So my question is “did no one test these suits before the Olympics?”

    It seems insane to introduce new suits without them going through extensive “road testing.”

    If testing did happen, then I’m thinking the skaters were looking for an excuse for poor finishes.

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