Kevin Plank’s keynote at SXSW made headlines with his declaration that “data is the new oil” and a call to startup founders to make money right away. But one of the most passionate moments of the Under Armour founder’s talk came when moderator and Fast Company editor Robert Safian asked Plank about his investment in Baltimore (via his grand plans in Port Covington).
Plank said he has been asked how he is addressing the issues that came to the fore after the riots that followed Freddie Gray’s funeral, and it comes down to the fact that he owns a big, urban-based company, and “cities need jobs,” he said.
The company’s “local-for-local” plan to come up with new manufacturing techniques and spaces for innovation at City Garage reflect the ways Plank wants Under Armour to be innovative. “Imagine if we could crack the code about how to get more local, and how to do it where the community are the ones that we’re selling to are the ones that are making it and having the jobs,” he said.
Plank said other apparel companies talk about innovation, but that doesn’t involve the way that the products are being manufactured. Here’s how he ended the answer:
When [a competitor] talks about great innovation being a new knit-upper in a shoe, honestly I roll my eyes and I say, “I think they’ve been lazy and they’ve been sitting on their heels, and it’s taken a disruptor like Under Armour to come along.” I don’t know if we will be the ones that crack the code and the find the answer [for local manufacturing], but I sure as heck hope we start the conversation.
The talk resonated with a few Baltimore founders attending SXSW who were in the audience.
Seeing Baltimore represented as a place that’s birthing new tech and innovation strategies on the same stage where President Barack Obama spoke a few days prior was inspiring for Yet Analytics cofounder Margaret Roth.
— Margaret Roth (@teachingdaisy) March 14, 2016
She said Plank’s talk was showing the way for Baltimoreans to think about ourselves. “We are national. We are big-time. We are a city that maters,” she said.
NewsUp’s Coleman Anderson, who attended along with fellow cofounder Andrew Schuster, said he saw Plank’s words change the perception of the city as he talked to another attendee the next day.
“When I told them we were Baltimore-based, there was a spark, and they said, ‘Oh cool, Under Armour territory.'” Anderson said. Instead of moving on to the next topic like most conversations went, they talked about the city’s growing tech community.
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