The rapid growth of the Under Armour brand over the last fifteen years can be largely credited to its advanced athletic and training apparel and products, but in the realm of off-the-field performance footwear, UA is still relatively a new breed. It was just a little over two years ago that Under Armour began its foray into hoops, signing Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings as its first-ever NBA athlete, and since then, they’ve added an impressive crop of young, versatile players like DeAndre Jordan, Kemba Walker, and Derrick Williams. Is there enough room for another brand to join the already packed store shelves? If a brand is aiming to emulate the industry standard of design convention, the answer is a resounding “no”.
But Under Armour isn’t a brand about the “status quo”. They’re going to offer something different, and they’re going to do it in the same way it did with its past products. Remember, UA is a billion dollar company for a reason, and they’re entering the performance basketball sector heavily armed. Earlier today, Under Armour invited a select group of sneaker and basketball media outlets to experience Under Armour’s Fall 2012 Footwear products first-hand – namely the Micro G Spine and visually stunning Micro G Charge BB. The Spine is cleanly designed, with a heavy focus on the unique midsole structure (a harder “cage” encapsulating the softer Micro G cushion technology), but our focus was on the Charge BB – a super high-top performance shoe that quite simply is unlike anything else out there. Continue on for more of Sneaker News’ recap of the event, a thorough gallery of the shoes, and an interview with UA Basketball designer Dave Dombrow.
Whether your response is positive, negative, or neutral, the Micro G Charge BB is going to grab your attention. Just like how UA’s earlier ad campaigns featuring hardcore athletes screaming “We must protect this house!” engrossed us into the brand and its slogan, the Micro G Charge BB has a magnetic attraction that only the most head-turning footwear designs in the last several decades have done. Aesthetically speaking, the Micro G Charge BB is a multi-hybrid of a basketball sneaker, a snowboard boot, a roller blade, and space travel gear. But at the core of the shoe is pure performance, where every bit and piece serves a functional purpose. The skyscraping heel articulates freely with the movements of the lower leg, while the tongue allows for ample ankle support. The lower-end has a bootie-like structure for lock-down fit, with a sturdy heel-counter offering stability.
The outsole is designed for complete function as well; the plate at the midfoot stretches longer than the conventional midfoot plate, offering springboard-like response, the herringbone traction keeps your feet in tune with the ground, and the groove at the heel provides coupling for multi-directional bursts. Clearly, performance is at the core of design, which echoes the Under Armour mantra of providing the highest level of athletic support. The Under Armour Micro G Charge BB is available now ($130) at Under Armour, Foot Locker, Eastbay, and Champs, so find them in stores now and check them out for yourself.
Sneaker News: Before we begin, could you kindly state your name and your primary role with Under Armour?
Dave Dombrow: Sure! My name is Dave Dombrow and I am the Senior Creative Director for Basketball.
SN: Thanks. So thinking back on Under Armour’s roots and its brand identity, most of the general public perceive UA as a hardcore sports apparel brand. They don’t necessarily think “basketball footwear”. So when did Under Armour decide to get its feet wet in basketball shoes?
DD: Well, we want to be a premiere footwear brand. We started with football and cleated sports, and basketball was a natural transition as were several other sports. We’re only getting serious about it now, and we want to be a major player. But truth is, nobody is really asking for another basketball brand, but we’re offering a completely different point of view than they are – and that’s us.
SN: You mentioned earlier in the presentation that Under Armour doesn’t want to be another brand that meets the status quo.
DD: Right. There’s no point in doing that. We wanted our own fit, and you can see in the Charge – that fit around the ankle that really gives you support while giving you freedom of articulated movement. That was really the base of it, and we used our apparel DNA and materials in the rest of the body. So it’s kind of like the best practices in basketball meets the best practices in apparel.
SN: Based on what’s been produced by brands over the last few years, it seems like the accepted norm for basketball shoes is that low-cut, low-profile, “second-skin” sort of construction. The Micro G Charge is simply not that at all. Did UA make it a goal to go “against the grain”?
DD: You know, we’re not interested in wasting space at all. We’re not trying to make the lightest shoe. But we are trying make something that’s light and strong. We’ve gotta make shoes that’s going to support these players that make these crazy movements on the court, and that’s our angle. It all comes back to performance. If we can make the lightest shoe? Yeah, that’s great, but that’s not what we’re set out to do. There’s a balance between “light” and “strength”, and i’m not going to call out any brands, but being too light can be dangerous if you don’t have strength. Studies have shown that you have to balance it, and that’s what we’re doing. I’m not going to say that we don’t have “lightweight” in the back of our mind, because we definitely do, but “light and strong” is our thing.
SN: Most of the SneakerNews.com visitors are more interested in the visual appeal and the “lifestyle” versatility of a shoe rather than the pure performance.
DD: Oh yeah, of course. I mean, we’re not naive, and we’re looking to build something that looks good as well. The Charge BB, as much as it’s a top-level shoe for performance, we want it to transition off-the-court as well. We believe it has that street-appeal to it in different situations, and that’s what we’re looking to do – to have that transition onto the street – but our foundation is always going to be on-court. That’s who we are as a brand and we’re going to ground ourselves in performance first. Otherwise, we’re losing our identity and focus. Premium brand, focus on performance, and with the high-cut style, we’re able to achieve that lifestyle look.
SN: Right – if you see these on a store shelf or on someone’s feet, you’re going to look twice no matter what.
DD: Love us or hate us, but don’t ignore us. I want 50/50. If we design something down the middle, well, i’m not going to say it’s a bad shoe, but we probably haven’t hit the pinnacle mark that we’re trying to hit. We want to be that polarizing brand and wake up the competition. We’re going to go hot colors, like the way it’s color-blocked on the back, we’re going to call out the function, so the most visually appealing part of the shoe goes back to function.
SN: The UA roster is a mixed bag – Jennings the speedy guard, and DeAndre the post presence. Is the Charge BB an all-positions shoe?
DD: Yeah, definitely. Basketball as a sport has changed a lot over the years. You’ll see big guys that are very agile wearing the guard type of shoe, but there’s a new type of player in the sports – these guys that can literally do everything. They’re strong, but they need speed shoes. I don’t want to toss it out as a guard’s shoe or a forward’s shoe, but I want to say “if you’re that type of player, and you like the look of the shoe, then the shoe is for you.”
SN: UA Basketball is just over two years old, signing Brandon Jennings to what is basically the genesis of UA Basketball, and in just two years, you guys put out a real statement shoe like the Micro G Charge BB. So where do you see UA Basketball maybe 3 to 5 years down the line?
DD: I see us evolving the stories we have now, adding the additional story here and there, and it’s all going to go back to performance and fit. It’s definitely not the end of the Micro G Charge and the Micro G Spine, so we’re going to continue to tell the story. Along with that, having some more athletes support the brand as well.