Under Armour has made a huge push recently to create clothing of the future. The company that invented "Cold Gear" and made bundled-up athletes a thing of the past gobbled up nearly $1 billion worth of health tech startups last year with the intention of integrating them into the company's clothing.
Now the Baltimore-based company is taking the next step: On Tuesday it opened a 35,000-square-foot innovation lab, called the Lighthouse, in a building that was formerly a bus garage. According to a press release from the sportswear brand, Under Armour will use advanced methods--robots, 3-D printing--to find faster and more efficient ways to manufacture its clothing and develop best practices going forward.
A robot that makes sneakers, for example, can single-handedly produce 2,400 shoes in eight hours--a task that would normally require 200 people. A laser cutter by a company called Lectra can slice through 50 sheets of fabric at once and automatically figures out what cutting pattern will create the smallest possible amount of waste. And a sewing machine binds fabrics together without actually using stitches, so designers can pull the material apart if the finished product isn't what they desired. Tech Insider took a look at much of the technology during a tour of the facility.
The company will use the Lighthouse to perform 3-D body scans to create customized clothes for its roster of athletes--which currently includes Tom Brady, Bryce Harper, Lindsey Vonn and Steph Curry.
Under Armour's sneaker line, which has surged in sales recently thanks to Curry's basketball releases, should get another boost: A new line of 3-D printed sneakers called the Architech will be released in July. They'll be manufactured from powder that solidifies as it's heated up in stages to form the sneaker's various layers. Under Armour plans to use the Lighthouse to improve the process of 3-D printing shoes.
As a whole, UA's sneaker sales rose by 95 percent in 2015 compared to the previous year. There's no telling yet how popular the printed designs will be with customers, but once perfected, the process could possibly be used to manufacture its existing lines at lower cost.
Under Armour, founded by Kevin Plank in 1996, recently overtook Adidas to become the second largest sportswear company in the U.S. Plank told Inc. last year that he wanted to revolutionize the sports apparel industry by creating clothing with health monitoring apps built right in.
There's no indication yet that that will be one of the Lighthouse's functions. But it looks like, thanks to Under Armour, the future of sportswear is happening right now in South Baltimore.