Two decades from now, women’s basketball players might bound across plexiglass, LED-powered courts wearing high-tech, compression-legging uniforms that monitor health and won’t clog landfills.
Fans at games in 2042 might wear virtual reality headsets that appear to add color and graphics to otherwise monotone uniforms. And special jackets could help players’ muscles recover more quickly after games.
The ideas, developed by four Under Armour summer interns during a diversity initiative the Baltimore-based athletic apparel brand launched in June, remain highly conceptual.
But then again, the futuristic designs are not so far-fetched, said Lisa Collier, Under Amour’s chief product officer since April 2020.
“I think the reality is, based on what we see happening in the world, what they showed us is not too far off,” said Collier, a veteran of brands such as NYDJ (Not Your Daughter’s Jeans), Levi Strauss & Co., Dockers and The Limited. “I think there’s a big reality there, and it’s sooner than we think.”
Collier was on hand Thursday at the Under Armour Brand House store in downtown Baltimore’s Harbor East for an unveiling of the interns’ basketball uniform prototypes.
The college students, chosen from thousands of applicants, were the first to take part in the new Blk FUTR program, designed to empower and develop Black creative talent. They were asked to design women’s basketball uniforms for the future, with prototypes to be displayed at the Brand House store.
During Thursday’s presentation, Collier said the new program fits Under Armour’s goal of being innovative and offering solutions to athletes and it’s one of several new diversity programs the brand has launched in recent years. The company debuted a career preparation program at Morgan State University earlier this year in an effort to attract a more diverse workforce.
Blk FUTR will “help Under Armour become a place where future young talent wants to come work, because we open up the pathways to have that happen in the early stage of people’s careers,” Collier said.
Reggie Wilson, a senior footwear designer for Under Armour’s basketball/Curry category and a Baltimore native, came up with the idea for the program and pitched it to Collier. The acronym FUTR, which stands for For Us To Rise, had been created for Under Armour’s basketball category and used in the Flow FUTR line of basketball shoes.
Wilson worked with the interns on the designs and a video documenting their efforts. The prototypes were produced with the help of Under Armour employees at the company’s Lighthouse manufacturing facility in Port Covington.
“The brand has always been about the future,” Wilson said Thursday before introducing the rookies. “So I said I thought it’d be a perfect opportunity for the brand to get behind the idea of a Black future program.”
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In a video about the project, Wilson reiterated the importance of having Black creative talent in the workplace, which among other things can lead to more meaningful connections with the brand’s Black customers.
On Thursday, the interns, called “rookies” at Under Armour, explained the thinking behind their unconventional basketball uniforms. For one thing, they were designing for two decades from now, when they imagine both population and pollution will have increased. They said they were going for sustainable clothing that’s lightweight, durable, multifunctional and able to communicate with virtual reality devices.
“We were really inspired by futuristic movies like ‘Tron,’ ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Hunger Games,’ just the way the technology was embedded in the clothing,” said Deja Herelle, an apparel design graduate from North Carolina State University.
Desirae Webster, an intern from Georgia and a senior at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana studying engineering design, said the interns chose fabric that combines titanium, carbon and nitrogen, and can detect muscle fatigue. Sensors knitted into the material can communicate with external devices.
Other participants included Brandi Hall, from Severn, who is pursuing a master’s in sports media and storytelling from Wake Forest University and has been filming the Blk FUTR program, and Brianna Calloway, the group’s project manager and a senior at Howard University studying legal communications and political science. Calloway, whose family is in the military and now based in Okinawa, Japan, said the internship provided her first hands-on experience with a company.
“This experience has been amazing,” Hall said. “Being able to be at a brand that I grew up around, I’m from the area, and being able to produce something on a professional level, has been amazing.”
Webster said she expects elements of her team’s design eventually to be incorporated into basketball uniforms, “as we see more technology become embedded into clothing. ... There are uniforms now that are compression-fitted that we’ve seen before in other countries, so I think that idea will start coming into fruition in the future — maybe about 20 years.”