In an era where retailers seek to outpace industry trends, some ambitious brands have built their own innovation labs to better understand how to improve the modern shopping experience. Under Armour is the latest brand to do so, recently opening UA Lighthouse, a new manufacturing and design innovation center in Baltimore.
The 35,000-square-foot facility will serve as a platform to develop best practices and efficient methods, in terms of speed, quality and cost, for how all Under Armour product is made. Products will include custom athletic shoes and apparel, elite team product and key footwear and apparel styles.
UA Lighthouse will include technology for:
3D Design and Body Scanning, which allows for the design of custom footwear and apparel while reducing waste in the development process;
3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping, which includes a 5-axis simultaneous machining center as well as a suite of fabrication tools;
Apparel and Footwear Prototyping, where designers and developers come to ideate, test, and refine products and processes; and
Apparel and Footwear Pilot Lines, a proving ground for process and evaluating how concepts will perform in a full-scale production environment.
Under Armour currently employs 58 people at UA Lighthouse, with a goal of reaching 100 by the end of 2016, according to the Baltimore Business Journal.
“By coupling incredible machinery, technologies and material sourcing under one roof, UA Lighthouse will offer immediacy in manufacturing and will allow us to be more responsive to the needs of athletes in the local community,” said Kevin Plank, CEO and Co-Founder of Under Armour in a statement. “This venture will allow Under Armour to make product better, faster, and more efficiently while working hand-in-hand with our manufacturing and factory partners across the world.”
Under Armour is following in the footsteps of Lowe’s, Neiman Marcus, Zappos, Westfield and Sephora in launching an internal innovation lab with space for both designers and manufacturers, reducing the need to outsource prototyping internationally.
Employees of the Under Armour innovation lab will team up with manufacturing and development partners on location including DOW Chemical Company, Huntsman, Lectra, Bemis, Epson, Desma, 3dMD and the University of Maryland’s Engineering Department.
Partnerships can be pivotal to the success of an innovation lab, regardless of the types of products built and tested there. While internal retail teams focus on day-to-day obligations, the third-party lab partner can concentrate on big picture plans and strategic initiatives. Regardless of whether retailers commit to partnering with third parties, they must first determine the pace at which they want to plan, test and roll out new projects.
Innovation Lab Marks Latest UA Tech Foray
The UA Lighthouse is the latest example of the company’s forward-thinking thought process. Under Armour has heavily focused on digital with the creation of its Connected Fitness suite of applications, enabling the brand’s consumers to track, analyze and share their health and fitness activity through mobile devices.
In June, Under Armour further emphasized the digital shift when it launched UA Shop, a mobile shopping app designed to leverage consumer data to create personalized experiences for shoppers based on athlete inspiration, workout history and previous purchase history.