Anyone who plays sports or has a child athlete is familiar with the Under Armor brand. Not only is the company gaining market share with its athletic apparel, but it’s making casual wear as well. However, not everyone knows that since 2007 the company has also sold its own line of sunglasses, and Omaha native Alan Tipp has been involved in designing every single style.
Tipp has always had a passion for design. After earning a degree in Industrial Design from Kansas University, he moved to Maryland and worked for 180s designing gloves, ear warmers, running apparel, and other products. After the company was sold, he explored other options and found Eye King—an East Coast company that designs sunglasses for Hobie as well as private labels that are sold to retailers nationwide. Eye King was in discussions to license with Under Armor, and Tipp helped with the presentation, which earned him a job. He’s been designing for them ever since, competing against brand giants Nike and Oakley.
Now operating as a team of three, Tipp works primarily out of his home studio in Omaha. He and his wife, Sonia, and their children moved back to Omaha to be closer to family. He does travel internationally, attending trade shows, meeting with vendors, or conducting line reviews in Long Island, but a majority of his interaction with his team can be conducted via Skype. “It’s an incredible amount of work, and we’re doing what Nike an Oakley have teams of 30 people doing,” he said.
Creating a new line of 12-15 sunglass styles every year can seem overwhelming, but Tipp said he finds inspiration all around him. “I look to nature, other industries such as automotive parts, or even something like wristbands on watches,” he said. “I also design for efficiency and to solve for the unmet need by listening and observing athletes and non-athletes.” Under Armor started out with sport sunglasses and now has lifestyle sunglasses as well.
Tipp has met with a number of athletes to design sunglasses, including Chase Elliott with NASCAR, Gary Woodland who plays on the PGA Tour, triathlete Chris McCormack, and even NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders. “I’ve been able to spend time in the lab with them, looking at different tints, or even be in the wind tunnel with them to see how the products work,” he said. He also designed a clip used on NFL helmets that makes visors removable without using tools.
Fashion trends come and go, and although Tipp designs with fashion in mind, he said he tries to take a “less is more” approach. “The ‘barely there’ experience with sunglasses is a big theme for me,” he explained. “Sunglasses should be seamless, but they’re still a fashion item, so they have to look good aesthetically. You have to design around eye shapes, which are basic, but the rest of it is about being ahead of the curve, and that’s where science and art collide.”
Under Armor eye wear is currently sold in large sporting goods stores, Under Armor retail stores, and online. “When we’re out and about, Alan can always spot someone wearing Under Armor sunglasses from across the room,” said his wife Sonia. “He might strike up a conversation and ask for feedback on the frames, but he never boasts that he’s the designer. That’s usually when our kids chime in and spill the beans.” Tipp is full of ideas for all kinds of products. “What drives me is seeing real innovation and change within a product,” he said. “Whether it’s sunglasses, cell phone cases, or something else, it’s all about revolutionary versus evolutionary design.”
This story is from the September 2015 issue of Edge Magazine. Browse the issue below then check out the Edge Magazine archives for more profiles like this one.