There's a new technological arms race being waged in the sneaker industry: 3-D printing.
Under Armour this week unveiled a "state-of-the-art" manufacturing and design facility in Baltimore, where 3-D printing is a prominent feature. The facility boasts "Star Trek"-like tools such as a "5-axis simultaneous machining center."
Rival New Balance launched a digital sport division at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, and in April released shoes with 3-D printed midsoles made with "selective laser sintering."
Futuristic as it may be, the 3-D printing craze harks back to athletic footwear companies' long history of competing not only on star power, but on the merits of their technology.
It comes at a time when the footwear industry has struggled to modernize traditional marketing techniques. Indeed, shoes endorsed by NBA star Steph Curry have had mixed success, boosting quarterly sales but taking a beating on social media.
Weak basketball shoe sales have been cited by retailers over several quarters, NPD analyst Matt Powell writes, as retro brands like Jordan remain the biggest driver of growth. But in the mid-1980s, Air Jordans commanded the highest basketball shoe price on the market, in part, because the technology behind the heel cushioning and toe lock-down was associated with Michael Jordan's breakout success, Foot Locker writes.