NEW YORK — Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank says the company's latest tie-up with Virgin Galactic to make spacesuits for astronauts should set the business apart — in consumers' minds and on Wall Street — from other athletic apparel brands such as Nike, Adidas and Lululemon.
"It's a bit of a coming-out party for what we've been talking about for three years, that people have a hard time getting their arms around where Under Armour truly wants to be," Plank said in an interview after unveiling the new suits on Wednesday. "The human performance company. ... We want to stand for all things innovation."
Under Armour has been criticized by analysts in the past for not participating more in the "athleisure" trend, where leggings and jogger pants are soaring in popularity as more women and men sport comfortable clothing to the gym and to run errands. Its sales in North America have taken a hit as trendier rivals have gained in popularity.
Instead, Plank said, Under Armour is staying true to its "performance" core, with the sweat-wicking and more technical products it's become known for.
"We've been really focused on wanting athletes to perform better to push human performance," he said. "And I think this [collaboration] is just another example of that, underscoring ... this is not just a cool logo or happens to be a trend."
The Under Armour-designed spacesuits are reserved for the roughly 600 people on a waitlist to take some of the first commercial space flights for tourists, planned for 2020.
However, Under Armour will sell some gear to the general public. T-shirts went on sale on Under Armour's website on Wednesday, for example. And Plank said he wouldn't count out other space-related merchandise going on sale in the future.
"There's just a little bit of an advantage in that ... we are building the same products that you can find in your local Dick's Sporting Goods," the CEO said. "And it's the same capabilities that are going to power these astronauts in space."
Under Armour says it used technology that's already been incorporated into its clothing and footwear, such as a cushioning system called "HOVR," to design the spacesuits unveiled on Wednesday.
Under Armour also says it will start to highlight its work with Virgin Galactic in a broader marketing push around the brand. But it didn't detail when that will start to roll out.
Under Armour shares are up about 14% this year. The stock was rising less than 1% on Wednesday afternoon.