When you're a sporting goods company known for your macho American football apparel and infamous, manic "protect this house" slogan and adverts, the last place you'd expect to be looking for inspiration for your latest trainer innovations would be the lingerie isle of your local department store. But that's been the unlikely jumping off point for Under Armour's latest innovative trainer, the Speedform - the world's first trainer to be made at a bra factory.
Looking to "own the market for the perfect fit" according to Dave Dombrow, Under Armour's Senior Creative Director of Footwear (pictured below, left), the company were inspired by bra manufacturers Playtex, whose knowledge of form-fitting clothing secured them the demanding contract to create the space suits for NASA's Apollo missions.
"Playtex changed NASA - they're the reason there are golf balls on the moon," said Kevin Fallon, Director of Design and Innovation at Under Armour (pictured below, right).
"Astronauts didn't like the rigid cyborg-like suits they'd tested before Playtex's involvement. Playtex had the expertise in fit and flexible construction, with multi-layer systems supporting the body where it needed it."
But won't taking inspiration from a bra manufacturer undermine the brand's tough image?
"The Apollo suits gave us the validation that this was the right avenue to go down. It's kind of funny and you chuckle at first, but there's a very serious, cutting-edge world of technology shared between sports apparel and bra makers. There's an opportunity to re-invent the whole industry," affirmed Fallon.
"Innovation is all about controversy," added Dombrow.
"When people kinda chuckle, we sit up and think 'Hey, we're on to something here'. That's when you know!"
And it's definitely an impressive construction. Weighing just 170g, the Speedform employs a number innovative manufacturing techniques to achieve its foot-hugging fit. Rather than a traditional weave or fabrication methods, the Speedform uses "ultrasonic welding", vibrating the shoe's fibres at incredible speeds to have them interlock and bind together, resulting in virtually no visible seams.
Ergonomically, the trainer grips the foot with "next-to-skin support", achieved through the ultrasonic weave process, as well as offering comfort through a moulded toe chamber. A silicone grip around the heel locks in your foot, again inside a seamless heel cup. Proprietary "4D Foam" sits within the embedded sock liner supporting the sole, and is included in place of a traditional removable insole.
"It's inspired by the anatomy, but make no mistake; this not a minimalist shoe", stressed Dombrow.
"It's just a lightweight, fast, hybrid racing shoe. There's a term in shoe design called "Plus or Minus 3mm", referring to how close the fit is. With Speedform we aimed for plus or minus zero. Those millimetres make a big difference. This is precision manufacturing more close to making a phone or a car than a standard trainer."
The prototyping stage was extensive too, including the use of hundreds of 3D-printed models, and employing the expertise of athletes including Ironman World Champion Chris "Macca" McCormack.
So can we expect to see the Speedform line expand in the future?
"We're developing a lot more materials. You'll see it expand within running, and covering different segments in running. This is a racer type shoe, but there are lot of people who aren't racers that run too. But it'll always be about performance."
And what potential is there of a connected, app-paired variant?
"Our digital space is something that we're getting into," teased Fallon.
"Whether Speedform and digital come together, we'll see. If it makes sense, and that excites our consumer, we'll do that. But that's not the mission I'd say for Speedform."
Out later this month in a range of primary colours including pink, orange, blue and green, there's no confirmed UK pricing from Under Armour for the Speedform yet. However, US prices are expected to be around $120 a pair, which converted into Great British Pounds puts the Speedform roughly at £80.