Under Armor appoints John Varvatos as Chief Design Officer – Sourcing Journal

In perhaps one of the most unorthodox pairings in the industry: under armour brings John Varvatos Boarded as Chief Design Officer effective September 11.

The award-winning designer has been a consultant for the sports brand since spring and will now officially come on board to oversee the design direction for the company’s entire apparel and accessories portfolio – both on and off the field – and the design studios in to head Baltimore, New York and Portland, Oregon.

Although Varvatos is better known for his rock ‘n’ roll-inspired menswear than his activewear, in an exclusive interview with WWD he pointed out that his background includes 15 years working at Converse as well as experience at Polo Sport and the RLX collection during of his Converse years includes Ralph Lauren. He is also credited with designing the boxer shorts while at Calvin Klein.

He said that this new role came about after meeting under armour Founder and CEO Kevin Plank, where they quickly bonded.

“I had a long lunch with Kevin in December and we realized we’re both fans of each other,” he said. “We talked about a possible collaboration.”

This led to him joining the company as a consultant and quickly familiarizing himself with the product and the culture. “I really got into the weed and fell in love with the company,” he said, adding that he’s been “an Under Armor fan since 1999,” when he saw kids wearing the brand on basketball courts, and he did began to wear the product himself.

Varvatos said his first task as a consultant will be to design a premium golf collection to complement Under Armor’s existing offering for the sport. Though the brand already has a large golf business — including sponsorship of popular PGA pro Jordan Spieth — it will tend to be “a more sophisticated, upscale group,” Varvatos said.

This led to him taking over the design lead for the remaining product categories. “It was a fun learning experience for me,” Varvatos said. “I love the team, but it’s time to switch gears a bit and go in a slightly different direction from a style and detail standpoint.”

He stressed that he will not delve too deeply into the technical features of the collection as Under Armor already has “an amazing technical development team”.

He also pointed to the complementary nature of athletic and activewear, especially in this post-pandemic era where comfort and performance are paramount for customers. “If you look at street style today, a lot of sportswear is inspired by activewear,” he said. “Sporting style is how you put things together, not a uniform. And sneakers now make up most of the shoe business.”

He admitted that while he’s spent most of his career in menswear, he’s also worked in womenswear at both Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, as well as his recently closed brand On This Day. “When you think about sports style, younger women tend to gravitate toward men’s sizes,” he said, adding that his 15-year-old daughter has a penchant for oversized sweatshirts and pants.

He said the first product to have his touch will launch next summer, with the majority due to arrive in fall 2024, and he’s already working on spring 2025. Although he will oversee the design, his name will be nowhere on the product appear , he said. “I’ll be behind the scenes,” he said.

Varvatos has had a long history of ups and downs throughout his career. He grew up in Detroit and joined Polo Ralph Lauren in 1984. In 1990 he was hired by Calvin Klein as head of menswear design. He returned to Polo in 1995 as head of menswear design for Polo Ralph Lauren, Double RL, Black Label and Polo Jeans Co. In 2000 he launched his own eponymous collection, the same year he received the Perry Ellis Award for New Menswear Designer from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. In 2001 he received his second CFDA award for Menswear Designer of the Year.

The John Varvatos The brand has been successful for years and still exists, however the designer is no longer involved. For the past three years, the brand has been owned by London-based Lion/Hendrix Cayman Ltd., a subsidiary of the brand’s majority partner, Lion Capital, after John Varvatos Enterprises filed for bankruptcy in May 2020, citing its 20-year history as the reason for the filing Companies declining sales and online sales that started in 2015 and peaked during the pandemic.

Just a year after exiting its eponymous label, Varvatos launched a new brand in October 2021: On This Day or OTD. The company had an ambitious start that included an initial collection with more than 200 stock units for both men and women, as well as two major physical locations on both coasts. However, the company was closed in March this year.

Last week, Varvatos attributed the failure to the fact that the brand, launched during the pandemic, had some “nice early successes,” but supply chain issues caused production and delivery delays that ultimately led to its demise.

“But I’m excited for the future and the opportunity to do something new with a great brand like Under Amour, which is an American success story,” he said. “I’m excited to be part of the next chapter of his journey.”

Varvatos’ appointment is the latest move by the Baltimore-based company since Stephanie Linnartz assumed the position of chief executive officer in February. Linnartz, who spent 25 years at Marriott before joining Under Armour, has already shaken up the C-suite by appointing another Marriott veteran, Jim Dausch, as executive vice president and chief consumer officer and stepping down from chief last month Product Officer Lisa Collier separated.

Linnartz has also launched a new strategy called “Protect This House 3” which aims to increase awareness of the Under Armor brand, deliver quality designs and products to drive US sales and maintain the company’s positive momentum overseas . Varvatos seems to be the key to this plan.

“We are very pleased to welcome John to the Under Armor family,” said Linnartz. “His track record and 30-year career speaks for itself. John will work with our product team to develop apparel, footwear and accessories from concept to commercialization, marrying performance and style.”

Linnartz’s predecessor, Patrik Frisk, had a different plan and focused almost exclusively on sports products to capitalize on the company’s longstanding strength. However, its competitors, notably New Balance, Adidas and Puma, have managed to combine both lifestyle products and technical performance products. Case in point is the return of Rhianna as an ambassador for Puma, as well as New Balance’s Made in USA collection created by feisty designer Teddy Santis of Aime Leon Dore. And Adidas has worked with everyone from Wales Bonner to Stella McCartney.

Under Armor’s biggest move into the lifestyle space came in 2015 when the company brought on designer Tim Coppens to launch UAS, a line the company described as modern American athletic apparel that combined performance features with fashion-forward silhouettes. But the line was expensive and didn’t resonate with Under Armor’s main customer.

Since then, the sports brand has grappled with other issues, including Plank’s departure from the CEO post, investigations into executives driving up visits to strip clubs, and declining sales, particularly in North America. In July, Under Armor reported a net loss of $95.5 million, or 21 cents a share, for the second quarter, compared to $12.3 million, or 3 cents a year ago. Excluding the financial impact of the company’s restructuring efforts, losses totaled $34 million. Revenue increased 8 percent to $1.2 billion, led by apparel where revenue increased 10 percent to $747 million. However, its home market of North America continues to struggle as the company now hopes for a 3 to 4 percent increase in sales this year on the back of a low- to mid-single-digit decline in North America and more than 25 percent growth abroad.

In February, Under Armor unveiled a plan to restructure the company that would result in pre-tax charges of $110 million to $130 million, but the company expanded those efforts by an additional $80 million this summer.

Additionally, there was great excitement last week when the documents were unsealed in a shareholder lawsuit over the relationship between Plank and MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, who previously worked at Bloomberg. The lawsuit, filed in 2017, alleges that the company inflated its share price by misleading investors when sales were weak, and highlights the connection between the two. According to published reports, Plank provided Ruhle with a home phone number and a special email address, flew on his private plane, and advised him to provide information to other media to counter negative coverage of the company.

https://sourcingjournal.com/topics/business-news/wwd-exclusive-under-armour-john-varvatos-chief-design-officer-453217/ Under Armor appoints John Varvatos as Chief Design Officer – Sourcing Journal


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