Friday, December 4, 2015: One of the coolest days of my (sneaker) life. I was invited to The Running Event in Austin, Texas.
For those of you who don’t know, TRE is the fastest growing trade show in the industry, featuring next year’s lines from all the heavy hitters in running — Saucony, New Balance, Asics, Mizuno, Nike, and…Under Armour. There were also a TON of smaller companies in attendance including Topo, Pearl Izumi, 361°, Oofos, and so many nutrition and accessory companies I couldn’t keep up.
Needless to say, it was hectic, crowded, and sensory overload. However, I managed to get a coveted spot in the tenth hour to discuss footwear with the man behind THE success story of last year’s shoe business — Dave Dombrow, Senior Vice President of Design, Under Armour Footwear.
Dave has a LONG history of design; he was an integral part of Nike’s Alpha Project heyday in the early 2000’s and for the last five and a half years at UA, righting that ship and blowing up all previous notions of the company’s footwear offerings. We got into all branches — running, basketball, spikes — so sit back and enjoy (you have to read it though). I will skip the introduction and head into the meat.
[Bryan Hinkle for Weartesters]: So, Dave, let’s start at the bottom, so to speak, and tell me about the running line? What’s the yellow shoe on the bottom?
[Dave Dombrow]: This is one of the most interesting — this is the Slingshot, our go fast shoe, and it is 3D knitted. If you look inside, it is all one piece like the Apollo. The trick is when it comes out of the machine it is already formed — not a flat piece of fabric but a formed upper, which hasn’t been done before. It is already a 3D form. We are able to do that through programming to get it to actually fit right to the last. It is seamless with burrito wrap construction. It has a Pebax plate in the midsole to allow the shoe to quickly spring back to shape.
[WT]: Pebax would work better, to me, as a runner. I was at 361° and they are putting carbon fiber as a shank in one of their new shoes, and to me, Pebax feels better — not as stiff so less foot fatigue, and the Pebax is not as brittle.
[DD]: Especially when talking about a “go-fast” running shoe, Pebax is the ultimate, and bringing it to the edge helps to enhance the feel, keeping your foot stable as well. It weighs 7 ounces, which is very light.
[WT]: So a step down in weight but a step up from the Apollo in performance…
[DD]: Yeah, even more of the “go fast” than the Apollo. Our lead marathoner Nick Arciniaga just ran NYC Marathon in the Slingshot. We are getting a great response from the running community and from the broader shoe community as well because they can be taken and worn as a fashion shoe.
[WT]: And that is what you have on too. [a sick infrared/black combo]
[DD]: Yeah, I went over to a sneaker store in Austin last night and was wearing these and they were like “When are those coming out? We could sell those!” So we started talking about the Slingshot, and then we started talking about the Curry and Curry 2.
[WT]: It’s funny you bring that up; I don’t know how much you know about WearTesters, but we are mainly a basketball site. I told Chris and the WearTesters crew I would be interviewing you and we came up with some questions. One of the questions was the Charged in the Curry line — it seems like the Curry 2 is a little firmer than the 1. Did you think that?
[DD]: Not underfoot it isn’t. One big difference from the 1 to the 2 is break-in time as well. The Curry 2 is out of the box ready. The Curry 1, the Anafoam, you have to break it in a little more. That’s even what Steph said — “The Curry 2 is great because I can break that in right away out of the box.”
[WT]: I did notice that, the Anafoam, the first couple of wears my foot was swimming a little, moving, until the Anafoam sort of formed and warmed up.
[DD]: We actually extended the Charged Foam in the Curry 2 — where it was a big puck in the Curry 1, we extended it all the way into the forefoot on the 2, so you should actually get at least as soft a feel on the 2 as the 1.
[WT]: I just got the ClutchFit Drive 2 low, and trying those on even compared to the Curry 2, the CFD2 felt a little more giving, a little softer than the Curry 2, but they are both Charged. I wondered if there was a Micro G element in the CFD2 that the Curry didn’t get.
[DD]: They are all combos in basketball. It’s not a layering, it’s a carrier. The easiest way to look at it is from the bottom of the shoe — we might have an exposed piece of Charged on the exterior, but the puck is in a carrier. It can’t go all the way to the edge fully because of how soft it is, we have to enclose it in some way.
[WT]: Especially with his ankles and the way they are, he can’t have instability at all.
[DD]: But as things are tracking in stores, I think we have to start getting more into that business with Curry. We are relevant in the conversation now.
[WT]: And you have been. The first shoe I got from UA was the Black Ice, when I wrote for Counterkicks, and I got them early, and I got accused of taking UA money for the good review it received (it was runner up in 2010 for my Shoe of the Year). It is still a good shoe; I still play in it. Here, I have to apologize, how long have you been at Under Armour?
[DD]: Five and a half years.
[WT]: I actually texted Nightwing last Monday from the gym, as we were getting ready to play, and out of the 12 or so guys there, 6 or 7 had on Under Armour — ClutchFit Drive, Curry, and Torches. It just shows the progress, where, two years ago, it would have been Nike, Nike, Nike, Jordan, Nike. It seems like the public is running away from that. With the Curry, no one knows what to expect. We are all looking forward to it, but…
[DD]: I’m working on the Curry 4. It’s, well, typical designer; I’m always looking at the next.
[WT]: Tell me a little about the tweaks to the Gemini.
[DD]: We’ve changed the foam setup inside for more arch, we altered the last slightly, just subtle tweaks, different counter shapes, so it is like the Gemini 1 but better with small changes. We are introducing the Bandit, which is already out in the first form, but this version took lessons from Speedform, with a molded heel, a more knit upper, and then combined the Charged/Micro G underfoot. It looks like an all Charged midsole but it actually has some Micro G. The Bandit is a really solid, across-channel shoe, whereas the Gemini, and the Slingshot will be more specialty, although they will work their way into the mall as well — that fashion crossover.
[WT]: I do really like the knit upper on the Bandit II.
[DD]: Yeah. So what we are trying to do is take our technical side and bring it into more of the mainstream setting in the $100 price point.
[WT]: I could see the Bandit II, no offense, being on the feet of weekend warriors, weightlifters, and dads watching kid’s games.
[DD]: Exactly, and you will see this at Dick’s Sporting Goods, Academy, Sports Authority. Now, over here, is our first year of introducing a track spike range [me — they are freaking cool], and our spike range combines Boa and Double Boa systems. [Boa is a bungee/dial lacing system similar to Puma Disc. Every company in Austin had a shoe outfitted with Boa systems.] We have a sleeved cross country spike with a CompFit-style sleeve that is thinner, like an apparel piece, to keep the shoe from coming off in the mud. We have the Fat Tire, and people LOVE that shoe.
[WT]: It’s amazing, every time that shoe is seen, the reaction is nothing but love.
[DD]: And you know who loves it the most? Basketball players from Curry to everyone else. The first guy at Elite 24 was Brandon Jennings just out on the court shooting. He just put them on and wore them everywhere. It looks very cool on tall guys because it turns out almost proportional.
[WT]: And here is the new Apollo. I wondered if the Slingshot would take it’s place.
[DD]: No, they will have their own lanes. The Apollo is still the one piece interior, 3D upper…
[WT]: And still made in the bra factory.
[DD]: Sometimes I say apparel factory, but it is what it is. The reality is, there are constructions they can do there, the taping, you can’t do that in a normal apparel factory.
[WT]: Because to me, fabrics, moisture wicking, fit, UA has been doing it for 20 years; you should have it dialed in like no other by now.
[DD]: Exactly, that is our cornerstone — fit and material innovation, specifically moisture management. It’s really simple for a designer; this is what we are about, what we are going after, and then we get great signature athletes to wear it. Pretty straightforward.
[WT]: I’m sorry I took up this much time, but when I start on shoes I get lost. One of the first areas that surprised me when I started doing running reviews was traction. I never thought about traction until I got a shoe that just slipped everywhere in less than ideal conditions. So you could check different rubber compounds, durometers, patterns from basketball, and apply it to running. And every point guard wants a running shoe feel and a running last, with stability. Take what you learn from running — the fit, the feel — and apply to basketball.
[DD]: Look at the Curry Two, with the Speedform, that is a derivative of a running shoe. Speedform started in running and we brought it to the Curry.
[WT]: We did wonder about the Speedform forefoot — still a thought, or is it not able to contain completely?
[DD]: It is still a thought. The reason it isn’t on the Curry Two is containment.
There you have it, guys – from the man himself. I can say, I am EXTREMELY excited to hear the innovations coming down from Under Armour. I wish I could print all I heard, but just know, there are serious happenings coming from the UA team, across all lines. We have already seen what they have done for Curry, and honestly, it amazes me that a brand besides Swoosh has had the sellout success in basketball. And if you ever get a chance to meet and talk with Dave, grab it. By far one of the coolest, most down to earth people I have met in this industry.
Keep watching and reading WearTesters — we bring it as we get it.