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Research and Innovation

NC State and Under Armour Partnership Takes Innovation to the Next Level

Two students dancing in colorful outfits.

Under Armour and NC State have launched a new partnership that will support student development, commercialize research and advance textile and materials innovation across the apparel, footwear and accessories industry.

Under Armour has opened an innovation center on NC State’s Centennial Campus, a space for Under Armour employees to work alongside university researchers. The partners have also signed a master research agreement to accelerate bringing new discoveries to market. Collaborative projects will uncover innovative solutions to support athletes on their journey to compete, while also improving the industry’s environmental impact.

“At Under Armour, we are committed to creating performance solutions for athletes that they never knew they needed and can’t imagine living without,” said Lisa Collier, chief product officer at Under Armour. “This commitment requires a laser focus on innovation. We are proud to partner with NC State, a top research university, to help us create cutting-edge fabrics that not only perform for athletes, but are also in line with our value to Act Sustainably.”

NC State is a strategic partner for Under Armour’s innovation team because of the university’s strong talent pipeline, highly regarded academic programs and unique location. North Carolina is the epicenter of textile manufacturing in the U.S. and NC State is home to the nation’s leading institutions for nonwovens and textiles.

“The addition of Under Armour on campus will result in meaningful experiences for our faculty and students,” said NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson. “Through shared expertise, we look forward to strengthening textiles innovation, improving sustainability and developing future leaders for the industry.”

Rethinking the Future of Fibers

Under Armour expects to invest more than $1 million in research with NC State over the next year. R&D collaborations with the Nonwovens Institute (NWI) — the world’s first academic program for the field of engineered fabrics — aims to commercialize breakthroughs.

“Transformative innovation is driven by partnerships between industry and academia,” said Behnam Pourdeyhimi, executive director of NWI, and associate dean and William A. Klopman Distinguished Professor. “Our collaborations with Under Armour will rethink the future of fiber and materials to develop new solutions.”

Student stands in front of textile equipment.
Under Armour’s donated equipment inside the Nonwovens Institute on NC State’s Centennial Campus.

In addition, working with researchers in the Wilson College of Textiles, Under Armour will conduct rigorous testing to ensure top fabric performance and endurance.

“The longstanding partnership with Under Armour powers innovative research and enables our students’ personal and professional development,” said Wilson College of Textiles Dean David Hinks. “Dozens of our graduates now enjoy impactful careers at Under Armour. Having Under Armour embedded in our Centennial Campus will help us further prepare students to become leaders in the textiles and apparel industry. This win-win partnership is an example of what makes Centennial Campus a very special place.”

In a class project previously sponsored by Under Armour, students developed a material that repurposed down insulation waste which typically ends up in landfills. The students then created a jacket prototype using the more sustainable material.

Transforming Fabric Into Wearable Art

The partnership is also paving the way for unconventional projects in the College of Design. Last spring, Under Armour donated 12,000 yards of fabric, equivalent to the length of 119 football fields. The material was used for Art2Wear, NC State’s annual student-run production that spotlights works of wearable art.

“The Under Armour Challenge gave our students an opportunity to work with professional-grade materials in very original ways,” added Derek Ham, department head of Art + Design in the College of Design. “The high-quality fabric allowed the students to design pieces that required technical knowledge while enabling them to push the boundaries of their own creativity.”

As part of the Under Armour Design Challenge, the students were invited to create looks for the show using the donated fabric. The designs were evaluated for creativity while keeping with Art2Wear’s ethos of avante-garde wearable sculpture and the 2022 theme, ‘Dissonance.’

Student adjusts clothing on a mannequin.
Student designers finalize looks for Art2Wear using Under Armour fabric.

Beyond the design competition, the donated fabric is being used throughout campus in a variety of creative applications. For example, at the Gregg Museum of Art as part of a pre-industrial world textiles course, by University Theater for set design, and at the campus Crafts Center.

Next Generation of Apparel Innovators

University–industry partnerships help develop a strong talent pool for recruiting. Under Armour has hired many graduates over the years, with 30 alumni currently employed.

Kyle Blakely (Textile Management ’07), senior vice president of innovation at Under Armour, said: “It’s a privilege to partner with my alma mater and the incredible students, faculty, and staff at NC State to support the Under Armour innovation team. NC State’s Think and Do culture resonates with our approach, making this a very natural partnership. We are dedicated to performance-led innovation, with athletes at the center of everything we do, and we could not ask for a better partner than NC State.”

As Under Armour’s liaison to the university, NC State’s Office of Partnerships matches the company with talent and research. Looking ahead, both organizations underscore the potential to develop new solutions and prepare students for the future.

This post was originally published in NC State News.