In late March when Under Armour announced it was shifting production to the design and manufacture of facemasks, face shields and other personal protective equipment for local healthcare workers combatting the coronavirus pandemic, the Baltimore-based company also understood athletes would need to utilize a different type of mask for the unforeseeable future.
With major European soccer leagues already restarting or returning by the end of the month, the NBA planning a July 31 restart, the NHL announcing an upcoming 24-team playoff, MLS restarting July 8, and MLB and NFL still determining the best and safest course of action, Under Armour fast tracked its Sportsmask, a first-of-its-kind reusable, water-resistant facemask engineered for exercise and performance.
Limited quantities will be available for purchase online ($30 retail) in the United States beginning 10 a.m. ET on June 11.
“It’s important that our customers and consumers know we have their backs,” said Kyle Blakely, Under Armour vice-president of materials innovation. “It’s our responsibility at Under Armour to create the right product for the athlete. We treated this like every other project but needed to accelerate it to get to market.
“The real goal was to get something athletes could use because we wanted to be helpful and make them better.”
A culmination of 13 prototypes with guidance from medical experts and athlete feedback throughout, the Sportsmask features a three-layer design that utilizes high-performance Under Armour materials to create structure to keep the mask off the mouth and nose, allowing better airflow and added comfort, which lessens moisture and sweat to pass. A moldable nose-bridge helps secure the product in place on the face, while reducing airflow to the eyes, aiding in preventing glasses from fogging. The third layer of UA Iso-Chill fabric feels cool against the skin, stretches, and is treated with PROTX2, a non-metal antimicrobial technology that has been shown in laboratory tests to destroy COVID-19. The EPA is currently reviewing the substance’s efficacy as it’s applied to the UA Sportsmask.
Blakely said the mask should be treated like a piece of performance apparel when it gets dirty and needs to be washed. The mask will be under review for FDA certification this summer. Under Armour also has a patent pending on the mask’s construction and design.
Under Armour athletes, including Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, and collegiate partners received the first batch of samples for trialing and use.
“Once you begin working out with the mask, it’ll take some getting used to,” said New Orleans Saints receiver and return specialist Deonte Harris. “Whenever you have something covering your mouth and nose, it’s going to feel a little restrictive at first. Other masks don’t give you as much airflow as this mask does, so it’s one of the best options for protection during performance.”
Harris, who was named to the 2019 Pro Bowl as a returner his rookie season, said he wears the Sportsmask for non-contact group training activities including running, lifting and drills.
“It’s not designed for contact sports, so I won’t be using it on the field, but it’s perfect for that extra level of protection when I’m working out with others and social distancing is encouraged,” he said. “As the NFL works on reopening team facilities, they’re doing the best they can to put plans in place that will keep us safe, but there is no guaranteed safeguard against COVID-19.
“The UA Sportsmask will give me the reassurance of an additional level of protection.”
While Blakely said the Sportsmask is geared toward athletes, it can be optimized for everyday use. He said Under Armour will continue to evolve and optimize the product based on customer feedback, which he deemed a long-term project. Additional colors will be released in the summer and fall, along with retail releases worldwide.
Blakely confirmed developers utilized learnings from their origami PPE masks to help expedite the process, rather than starting from square one. Because of social distancing, Under Armour founder Kevin Plank’s designs coupled with Blakely’s materials were sent to Ella Mae Holmes, a seamstress who began sewing prototypes out of her home. After input and testing from product development and a baker’s dozen of iterations, the Under Armour Sportsmask was born.
“The learnings from the first mask really transcended into the Sportsmask,” Blakely said. “We didn’t start from scratch; we had the momentum from the first mask. With anything, this was a major team effort. This wasn’t just me or a couple of people, this was a group effort to get this right—people who are extremely passionate about doing this.
“I’ve been at Under Armour 12 years and can’t think of anything more important I’ve worked on.”