Thanks to innovative design and a perfect season for Stephen Curry, Under Armour is changing the game. Last year, sales of Curry’s first signature sneaker, the Under Armour Curry One, pushed UA into a higher stratosphere. Helped by Golden State’s romp to the NBA title, UA basketball shoe sales skyrocketed by 754 percent by the end of the second quarter in June. Now on the eve of the new NBA season, with the Warriors primed to defend the team’s first title since 1975, Curry and Under Armour want to take his signature shoe even further.
For the latest episode of The Drop video series, we wanted to go to the source to see how everything within the UA labs is playing out. Underneath their new umbrella of offices parked in the sneaker mecca in Portland, Oregon, we caught up with the men who spearheaded the design of the Under Armour Curry Two, Rashad Williams, the head of Men’s Basketball Division at UA, and Todd Luedecke, UA’s Manager of Innovation, to talk about the process behind the design of the NBA MVP’s newest sig silo.
On October 24, the first colorway of the Curry Two will be releasing at Champs Sports. Dubbed the “Iron Sharpens Iron” edition, this version plays off of Curry’s ability to inspire his troops. On the court, that’s obvious. The Warriors organization, from the players to the front office to even the fans…they all adore the former Davidson standout. But Curry’s inspiration echoes off the floor as well.
This is a big moment for Under Armour and Stephen Curry. Thankfully, the designers of the Curry Two came correct on the MVP’s second signature sneaker.
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On the meaning behind the “Iron Sharpens Iron” launch colorway:
“As we know, Steph claims to be a man of faith and so the inspiration here was from an old proverb ‘iron sharpens iron,’ one person sharpens another. That was really the inspiration for this, really looking at how Steph can hone his skills versus the best players in the world and how you actually execute that on color. What we went with was a pretty neutral grey upper and then we have a great transition from yellow to orange that really signifies how when you stick iron into the fire, how it shapes it and molds it. I think it came out great and really signifies what Steph’s all about.
“It’s a collaborative process. We come up with ideas and we shoot them back to Steph and then he comes with ideas as well and then we see which ones are super compelling and really signify what Steph is as a person and how he wants his fans to really see that in his footwear.”
On Stephen Curry’s involvement:
“He is really involved. Every season we meet with Steph and we ask him where he’s improving on, where he wants to take his game and so he gives us all these key insights. We take all these key insights and sit with our designers and these guys go to work. We all vibe out and brainstorm around different ideas. We email Steph. We also text him, email him.”
On the Under Armour Curry Two:
“Usually we try to take some of our apparel DNA starting with the top of the foot in the forefoot and the upper. What we have here is called SpeedForm technology. You might’ve seen this on some of our running shoes. The Gemini, for instance. This is the first shoe from UA Basketball where we are bringing the SpeedForm technology to a basketball shoe to really stay close to the foot on the upper to allow more freedom but also support. Steph’s a big proponent of having not only ankle and heel support but also that his underfoot is well-cushioned. He does a lot of start and stopping. He’ll penetrate, stop, and shoot a jumper. He’ll penetrate, stop, and dish off.
“With SpeedForm there’s a seamless heel in the upper. You don’t have a sockliner so that enables the shoe and the technology to really form to your foot. But in order to do that we also create a great heel counter to counterbalance that and have lockdown. When you play hoops, lockdown is a huge thing in the heel area so we wanted to play up the lockdown that occurs through SpeedForm and ultimately through Steph.”
On Curry’s role:
“He was an underdog. He keeps a chip on his shoulder. He works hard every day and as a result of that, it stays with him and you see the results that come out of that.”
On shoe detailing:
“Steph is really big on giving his consumers a nice feel of who he is. A common detail that we saw in the Curry One, we like to detail on the tongue what the color detail is. You’ll see that again. You’ll see another nod to Dub Nation with more details. You will also see Steph’s favorite saying, ‘I can do all things.’ That will be on his footwear as well. It gives a little piece of Steph to his fans and lets them know who he is.”
On Anafoam technology:
“Anafoam technology is going back to our apparel DNA. It’s about having a nice material on the upper that forms to the foot that gives you the flexibility but also creates that structure because you can imagine the force and the torque that NBA players put on their feet throughout the season. That’s really what Anafoam is all about. Having minimal upper material but also making sure you have that stability to make sure they are protected and safe during play.”
On Charged Foam:
“It responds to you. If we’re sitting here right now, we don’t have a lot of responses going on but as you continue to get more activity, you get more responsiveness as you go. We wanted to bring that into Steph’s shoe for this season as well. It was in the Curry One but we brought it more broader into the midsole to make sure you have responsiveness from a heel to toe transition for him.”
On the whole process:
“Sneakers take a long time. People don’t really realize that. We usually work 18 to 24 months out to create a sneaker. We touch base with Steph usually at the beginning of the season to get those key insights we need to start building from a design standpoint to create that innovation and lockdown what that need is for him. The creative process starts and that’s when we have a lot of back and forth internally and with Steph and his team as well on the look and feel. You guys will probably see a few iterations from where we started and then ultimately where we ended up, but it’s a long process.”
On the design process:
“To me it starts with the athlete. We’re looking at Steph and how he moves. We go through footage of him playing. We slow it down. We look at how his lower extremities move, how he sets the foot down, basically dissecting his foot movement, and that gives us insight on how we can improve on last year’s model. We typically work a year and a half to two or two and a half years out. We go through footage and asking him questions about what he’s feeling in the footwear and what we can do to make him feel more comfortable or more secure. Then you gather up those insights and key takeaways and you put a plan together on how to make it better.
“We’ll ask him how we can improve last year’s model to make you faster on the cut, faster on the jump, and he’ll come back with feedback, like on this model around really locking down the heel and underfoot comfort. I’m on the innovation side of the business so we go through a toolbox that we continuously work and improve on and see what are the latest technologies that we can adapt, such as Dynamic Cushioning where it gets firmer as you push harder or faster. That’s really appropriate for him.”
On External Heel Counter:
“It has a harder plastic and it forms around the heel bone to capture that nicely, and it really works together well with the SpeedForm upper. This is probably the only shoe on the market that is completely molded, 360 degrees, around the foot with a continuous foam package. It goes from thin to thick, back to thin without any wrinkles or any change through the molding process. It’s nice to feel that. It makes for tremendous lockdown, but it’s still very pliable to move with the foot. Those two things you usually don’t get. You get one or the other. In this you get both.”
On creating technology:
“It is difficult to do for basketball. We usually start in the running business where you don’t cut, you don’t jump as much. To then take technologies for basketball and not mess them up? Then it becomes hard, but it’s a challenge we love and we like to get after, especially with Steph where you have a really good athlete to work with. The insights that he’s bringing really make us think differently about how we can adapt technologies. Sometimes we find them in automotive or medical or other industries and through the lens of innovation bring it to the athlete. That’s a lot of fun.”
On what excites him:
“We’re really excited about the Charged Cushioning. It’s a really unique platform. It’s a dynamic response so it acts differently when you’re walking or running where it’s soft and plush to when you’re coming down from a jump or when you’re cutting or moving really quickly with much harder movement, it firms up and supports you. That’s exciting almost from a chemistry or molecular level. So you can geek out on that.
“On the other hand, for any player this continuously molded heel, this SpeedForm construction in the heel, especially, is really unique and it’s a really high level of craft that goes into it. This lockdown will be plush and secure at the same time. I can’t stop touching the heel. It’s one of the most unique-feeling parts of the shoe.
“Working with the MVP is the most exciting part of the job. You kidding me? I work on product in running and military boots and basketball shoes and all other kinds of product that we do. But by far the most exciting product to work on is working on the MVP’s next product. Absolutely. Hands down. That’s what you live for in this industry.”
On the pressure of working with an MVP:
“There’s more pressure to deliver. More eyeballs. More eyeballs on the prize. Success begets success, that’s what I believe. You have a successful player, he will make the team better because now we all focus even more so to make the product better because we know people are going to be watching and saying, ‘Is that really what the MVP is wearing?’ It’s an exciting time for Under Armour. It’s an exciting time for me to be here to take the next step with the athlete as a brand and as a team.”