ISU Alumni make big impact at Under Armour


Photo: Catherine Calistro/Iowa State Daily

ISU Alumni make big impact at Under Armour

Catherine Calistro

In 1996, the sport apparel market was forever changed when Under Armour was founded and began its climb to becoming one of the most respected brands in the U.S. The story of Under Armour started simple enough; while playing football for the University of Maryland, Kevin Plank was sick of dealing with sweat-soaked t-shirts after practices which gave him an idea for a polyester-blend shirt that expelled moisture. In the 16 years that the company has been established, it has expanded its products from the original performance gear T-shirt to branded performance apparel, footwear, and accessories.

Two Under Armour employees and Iowa State University alumni visited campus earlier this fall. Mark Graff, director of athletic services and special event product merchandising, and Austin Paule, apparel merchandiser of men’s action sports and outerwear. I was also able to meet Michael McBride, senior manager of sports marketing who was in Ames for the Iowa State vs. Texas Tech game working as Texas Tech’s Sports Marketing Manager; as Texas Tech is one of the 13 major collegiate football teams who are officially sponsored by Under Armour.

At the Under Armour headquarters in Baltimore, MD. they strive to keep the athletic environment alive by referring to co-workers as teammates and meetings as huddles. This aids in building a stronger team-oriented work environment that in turn positively influences the work ethic and overall product outcome. Approximately 75% of the company played a high school sport and about half the company played a collegiate sport.

“I think part of the team atmosphere of the company is not being afraid to try things and fail, we call it Crash Test Dummies,” Graff said. “If you fail, it means you have proven something out that does not work. There are no boundaries at our company. We are empowered, you empower your teammates, and you trust each other but know its okay to fail. Most people look at failure as a bad thing, we look it as we’ve learned something, so let’s move forward.”

Both Paule and Graff have directly contributed to the expansion of the UA brand. Paule, from the Midwest, grew up hunting. He recognized that Under Armour did not have an upland line within their hunting collection and believed that was a part of the market that could be quite a valuable addition. With support from his teammates, persistence, and belief in his idea, Paule’s line was approved by his director. Under Armour’s Upland Prey Series line was launched and is currently on the market as of this fall.

Paule’s work is behind the scenes most of the time, while Graff’s research is based on first-hand observation of athletes, as well as their corresponding athletic departments. He spends a lot of time in the locker rooms because he believes a major part of market research is simply listening. By just listening and watching the athletes, he can learn vital information to help inspire new ideas to bring back to the drawing board. Graff also has worked on a special philanthropic project for Under Armour.

When a soldier arrives at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, patients arrive with only what they are wearing. To show Under Armour’s support, every soldier gets an Under Armour backpack with “UA Wounded Warrior Project” inscribed. They are filled with t-shirt, jacket, underwear, socks, a deck of cards and a magazine.

Pride and passion was in Graff’s eyes when described his contributions to the Wounded Warrior Project. Each member took turns explaining all the facets of this project in detail. Under Armour partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project to help raise awareness for our nation’s many heroes who have served and continue to serve our country. Graff’s team played an integral role in developing the the product line to be featured at select NCAA football games in support of the US Armed Forces. His team designed the custom football uniforms worn by the players then auctioned after the game. One hundred percent of the proceeds go directly towards the Wounded Warrior Project.

After only 16 years in the industry, Under Armour has rapidly expanded their company through development, marketing, and distribution of products that completely caters to their customers. Their goal is to empower athletes and empower its employees in the process. Under Armour’s employees strive to incorporate innovation, passion, and drive into the workplace in order to create the best product for the consumer.