Under Armour will make uniforms for the captains of the spaceplane and the more than 700 passengers who have already signed up for a voyage costing $250,000 each.
“If you’re going to space, you ought to look good, feel good and have the experience of a lifetime,” Virgin founder Richard Branson said in a phone interview. “We wanted a space suit that the 700 astronauts who signed up and hopefully the thousands more that will sign up in the future will have a unique design to the individual. We need a space suit that would make them comfortable going up to space, that would work while they are floating around and on the way back down.”
For Under Armour, the suits present a proving ground for innovations in materials and manufacturing techniques, and make it the first major consumer retailer to design for extraterrestrial travel.
“This could really showcase how we do our work at Under Armour,” said Clay Dean, the company’s chief innovation officer. “We might find another Stephen Curry one day or another elite athlete, but we’ll never have another chance to go into space.”
Being the first apparel company in space also provides financial upside for Under Armour, said Cara Tuttle, an assistant professor of fashion design at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Activewear brands such as Nike, Under Armour, Adidas and Lululemon have capitalized on recent years off growth on “athleisure wear,” like stylish yoga pants, or sporty-but-fashionable zip-up tops.
But “athleisure” isn’t a fashion category, Tuttle said. It’s a trend. And “spacewear” — yes, clothes for space — is a category of the future.
“Space apparel is likely here to stay,” she said, “and it’s almost like a new sport that people will be participating in."
Astro-tourists have a discreet set of needs that most clothes can’t satisfy. SpaceShipTwo hit a top speed of Mach 2.9 while headed almost straight up, encountering incredible gravitational force. Space clothes need to keep the wearer comfortable when dealing with that kind of resistance, Dean said. They need to ensure freedom of movement while passengers are floating around in the cabin. They need to be fire retardant in case of emergency. Space gets cold; these suits should keep wearers warm.
And, just as crucially, the flight suits need to look good. If a customer is going to pay $250,000 to go to space, they should look smart doing it, Dean said.
That’s the most promising financial aspect for Under Armour, Tuttle said. The company gets to pioneer what fashion for the stars looks like, especially when NASA’s flight suits have been baggy orange or blue jumpers.
“Almost as much as the plane looks, the way the people look in the uniforms when they get on the spaceplane, that’s going to be the picture of space tourism,” she said.
The entire uniform will consist of a one-piece flight suit, shoes and a flight jacket that can be worn on the mission and back on terra firma as a fashion statement. Pilots will get a separate uniform.
“It is a progressive-looking uniform,” Dean said. Designs will be released in the coming weeks. “It’s not something you’d see people walking around in every day, but it’s not going to look like something out of a movie.
“They will look the part.”
Branson said Virgin’s next test flight is scheduled for the second week in February, though an exact date has not been set. Branson has vowed to be on Virgin’s first commercial flight, which is on track for this summer.