Under Armour's New Steph Curry 'Chef' Shoe Gets Cooked

Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry’s new all-white low top basketball sneaker dubbed “Chef” by Under Armour is being skewered on social media. See for yourself. Photo: Under Armour

In a television ad a generation ago, the filmmaker Spike Lee asked young basketball phenom Michael Jordan about the source of his prowess: “Is it the shoes? It’s gotta be the shoes!”

This week, as two-time National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry seeks to lead his Golden State Warriors to their second-straight championship, few people are asking the same question. The Warriors lead LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, 2-1, ahead of Friday night’s game four.

The latest version of Mr. Curry’s signature basketball shoe is slated for release at some retailers on Saturday, and early appraisals for the sneakers on the internet have been dismal. The Curry Two Low “Chef,” made by Under Armour Inc., UA -0.72 % has drawn wisecracks on social media, where sneaker fans have likened their all-white profile and sturdy heel to something retirees might wear.

“These shoes go to Home Depot with their cellphone clipped on their belt,” writer Ezekiel Kweku tweeted. “The Prostate Exam 7s are limited release & u *must* sign up for the lottery via your AARP app. Good luck!” wrote comedian and podcaster The Kid Mero.

Dozens of other posts appropriated the shoes with other icons of generic appeal, such as the 1990s sitcom “Seinfeld,” and the rock band Coldplay. They have made cameos in photos with Mr. Rogers and Forrest Gump. Sneaker fans tried to outdo each other with new names for the shoes, such as “The Bed Bath and Beyond 5s” or “The Matinee 2:30s.”

Under Armour didn’t directly address the criticisms of the newest shoes, but said the signature Curry line of sneakers and apparel “has been one of the most successful collections from our brand.” The company said the footwear “features extensive designs and colors, and is rooted in and inspired by Stephen’s personal story.”

Neil Schwartz, vice president of business development for industry tracker SportsOneSource, said the social media backlash for the Curry Two Lows was particularly intense.

“I’ve not seen anything like this. This has been kind of funny, the sneakerheads are pretty frank,” he said. Mr. Schwartz noted that in the U.S. retail basketball shoe market, roughly 85% of sales come from sneakers that are intended to be worn for style instead of sport.

“People think the style looks a bit older, it looks like what a nurse might wear,” he said.

Under Armour has used its endorsement deal with Mr. Curry to chip away at Nike Inc. NKE 0.31 % ’s dominance of the footwear market. The Curry signature shoes, which cost around $ 130, have been taking market share from Nike signature offerings, including its line of Mr. James’s $ 150 and up sneakers, according to retailers.

Under Armour’s footwear sales surged 57%, to $ 677.7 million, in 2015, but still are dwarfed by Nike, which had $ 18.3 billion in Nike brand footwear sales and roughly $ 2 billion in Jordan brand merchandise in its last fiscal year, which ended May 31, 2015. (Nike also owns Converse, which had $ 1.9 billion in sales in the period.)

Executives at Under Armour have been working to expand the brand beyond its performance-oriented sporting goods image and gain a foothold in lifestyle and streetwear. To that end, Under Armour has ramped up hiring in recent weeks as it plans to launch its first collection of casual wear later this fall.

On Thursday, the company said it rehired Dave Dombrow, who had been its footwear designer for six years, after he briefly departed for a job at Nike. Mr. Dombrow is credited with designing Mr. Curry’s first signature shoe, the Curry One, which made its debut in 2015.

Broadening Under Armour’s appeal beyond sporting goods comes as the retail market for traditional sportswear is contracting. Several top chains, including The Sports Authority, City Sports, and Sport Chalet, have filed for bankruptcy or liquidated in the past year. Meanwhile, other retailers—such as Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. DKS -1.44 % and Foot Locker Inc. FL 0.07 % —have been readjusting merchandise to keep up with more ephemeral fashion tastes of their customers.

“Our core consumer changes their preferences sometimes multiple times during a day,” said Foot Locker Chief Executive Dick Johnson on an earnings call last month.

So far, some lifestyle-oriented sneaker stores have been reluctant to open up wholesale accounts with Under Armour, saying that most of the shoes the company has put on the market since beginning their footwear line a decade ago have been too sporty. Christine Noh, who runs New York City-area streetwear-store-chain Nohble, said she would offer a line of Under Armour products for the first time this holiday season to test the appetite of her mostly sneakerhead customers.

The low-top white version of the Curry Two isn’t the model that Mr. Curry wears on the court. He typically plays in a high-top version of his signature shoe. In addition to that color of the Curry Two, which Under Armour started selling this week, the sneaker has been available in other colors, including black and “combat green,” and a high-top style.

Mr. Schwartz of SportsOneSource said despite the backlash for the current Curry Two release, “it’s not the end of the world. Only the haters go online, the likers might not.”

Write to Sara Germano at [email protected]


WSJ.com: US Business

About The Author