Since signing with Under Armour in 2013, Stephen Curry has become one of the NBA’s most marketable stars. Boardroom breaks down his rise from sharpshooter to sportswear strategist.
Day in and day out, CEO Steph is expanding more than his bag, but his briefcase, too — taking more meetings and conquering new categories as the figurehead for his namesake company. Fresh off his fourth NBA title — and first Finals MVP honor — Curry is expanding his influence in the sportswear industry beyond his Hall of Fame playing career.
“He took real ownership in launching Curry Brand,” Curry Brand GM Ryan Drew told Boardroom. “In 2021, we met with the Foot Locker, Inc. team and Stephen was on the Webex. We’ve got all of their senior people on at Foot Locker, and we’re introducing everybody to Curry Brand: strategy, direction, product. Steph walked everyone through the strategy in the first 15 minutes.”
The Webex walkthrough took place just weeks after the Curry Brand launched in December of 2021. It may have been even more unprecedented than his career-high 62-point performance against Portland days prior.
“The guys at Foot Locker told me, ‘Not have we never had an athlete jump on a call like that. We’ve never had an athlete, especially of Steph’s caliber, walk us through the strategy for his own brand,'” Drew continued. “That’s an example of how he is really bought in, and he believes in what we’re doing.”
Needless to say, the seasoned Chef Curry is more than an athlete and more than a model for a singular signature shoe. Like Mike before him, Curry is leveraging his likeness into multiple models across a global audience.
“He used to just be an endorser with Under Armour,” Drew said. “Now as a brand, we’re looking at how to expand our business.”
How is Curry planning to translate his all-time greatness into an empire that can compete with the likes of the Jumpman and sustain for generations?
Boardroom spoke to the team at Curry Brand to learn all about what can be expected from CEO Steph.
A Decade of Dominance
As the story goes, Under Armour swooped Steph Curry away from Nike in 2013 and paid the then-ascending shooter less than $4 million a year.
In his first season wearing the Shield, Steph soared. The Golden State star averaged 24 points and made his first All-Star Game. By February 2015, Under Armour had the Curry 1, Steph’s first signature shoe, ready for retail at All-Star Weekend in the major market of New York City. Months later, Steph had his first NBA championship, which set the stage for a five-year run of making the Finals and accumulating accolades.
That summer, Steph and UA renegotiated the details of their deal and agreed on a contract extension that runs into 2024 and gives Curry equity in the Baltimore brand.
The baller and the brand released shoe after shoe over the course of a run that saw Steph winning three championships, two MVPs, and two scoring titles. In late 2020, Under Armour announced Steph’s own subsidiary, the Curry Brand, which is celebrating more championships and more milestones in an already eventful 2022.
“This year, we launch Curry 10 in the fall,” Drew shared.
The landmark launch times out perfectly with Steph’s current victory lap, including hosting the 2022 ESPYs on Wednesday and preparing to defend the Warriors title next season. Steph will lead the aptly named Curry 10 while leaning into his past pairs and off-court interests through retro releases and collaborations.
Much like Mike built Jordan Brand 25 years ago at the top of his winning ways, Steph is looking to take Curry Brand to the industry’s pinnacle with Jordan’s same moxie but strategy and storytelling all his own.
Learning from the Past
As an up-and-coming talent at Under Armour, Curry’s signature series caught fire with the Curry 1 and Curry 2. Corresponding with back-to-back MVP seasons, the introductory iterations were beloved by kids and adored by collectors.
However, all that early success led to overdoing it and altering their success rate. At Curry Brand, the team behind Steph is keen on not making the same mistakes twice.
“We’re keeping things tight,” Drew said. “We don’t want to go back to the days when we were blasting millions of pairs of Curry 3s out there that you could find any given day at price points that were half the price of what retail was. We want to really protect the brand now that it’s Curry Brand.”
Protecting the Curry Brand means making smart strategic decisions in regard to allocations while also improving the structure and storytelling tied to pairs of past acclaim.
“The storytelling is really deep,” Drew added. “In some cases, it’s new. In other cases, the history has already been written by Stephen. It gives us the chance to create new products off historic moments Steph had [while wearing] the product.”
Fortunately for Steph and Curry Brand, the idea of telling stories both old and new through a famed footwear franchise is one where the path has already been paved.
For fans of footwear, the 2020 ESPNThe Last Dance documentary was more than just behind-the-scenes basketball content. It was an inside look at Michael Jordan transitioning from back court to front office. In that iconic last season, which corresponded with the first full year of Jordan Brand, MJ kept spectators on their toes more than ever when wondering what’d he’d have on his feet.
As CEO Jordan, Mike tested signature shoes for Eddie Jones in practice while pulling out Vin Baker styles for flights. Most notably, MJ shocked Madison Square Garden by returning to his iconic Air Jordan 1 for his final outing in NYC as a Chicago Bull.
This same flair for the moment, whether by function or flash, has crept into Steph’s conscience now that he helms his own brand. Steph used the 2022 NBA Playoffs to dive deep into his bag.
Curry had sprained his left foot in a March outing against the Boston Celtics, Golden State’s eventual Finals opponent. He returned to the court for Game 1 of the first-round series against the Denver Nuggets. Many will remember that Steph came off the bench, but few will have noticed what was on his injured foot: 2019’s “Thank You Oakland” Under Armour Curry 6.
“The 6 is an interesting one,” said Drew. “It was the first time he’d been back on the court since he had hurt his foot, and he probably came back a month earlier than he should have. He called us in workouts and said, ‘My foot is still really tender. The traction and the grip of Flow is so extreme from shoes I’ve worn in the past that it almost feels like it’s keeping my foot tender. Is there another shoe I should wear to kind of break myself in until I get back fully?'”
Drew suggested switching back to the pre-Flow Curry 6, though there wasn’t much he could do to make that happen.
“It’s not like we had 6s on ice!” Drew said, laughing. “Nobody had them, so he had to go back into his garage into some deadstock and actually pull those out. The 6 has a lot of the same flexibility in the upper, but it’s a much stiffer platform, so it gave him an opportunity from injury into wearing Flow.”
Throughout the 2022 Playoffs and into the Finals, Steph switched shoes early and often. He went 6-0 in his “Lucky Lilac” Curry 4 FloTro while also wearing colorful Curry 9 Flows inspired by the likes of Craig Sager and The Cookie Monster.
Just like Mike went deep into the 1998 NBA Playoffs, allowing him to rotate Air Jordan 13s in mid and low fashion before bringing out the unreleased Air Jordan 14 for his last shot in the Finals, Steph’s winning ways have allowed him and his brand to display their full breadth of products while still selling into the summer.
“We’ve been lucky enough to consider April through June as a time to launch basketball product,” Drew said. “It’s been an embarrassment of riches over the last eight years to be able to display product deep into the playoff runs.”
After year one of Jordan Brand, Michael Jordan retired from the game of basketball — building his company off retro products and a new class of endorsers.
To billions of basketball fans – including Curry himself – the impact Mike made on the market through his brand still inspires.
“Think about where Jordan Brand was when MJ retired, where it is now, and the amazing growth that they’ve had,” Steph Curry told Boardroom’s Nick DePaula in 2021. “Obviously, he’s the GOAT, he’s a legend, and he’s paved the way for this generation to do what we’re doing.”
While Mike might have launched Jordan Brand right before he retired for the second time, the break didn’t last long. Famously, MJ came back to the game for two short seasons in Washington.
Even as a Wizard, Mike had his marketing hat on. He rotated retros on East Coast road trips while adding cache to the D.C. team. Steph, arguably still in his prime, has already showcased the same sense of cool and curiosity when building his own brand both on the court and in the tunnel.
“This year, you’re going to see the full breadth of all of those silos for the first time,” Drew said when discussing the wide range of Curry Brand drops that will include callbacks to signature styles from previous seasons.
“Steph really understands marketing and merchandising,” he continued. “He realizes for us to be a much bigger brand, we have to be bigger than just one shoe. The opportunity for him to use different products — whether it’s a retro shoe or pullout a FloTro shoe? I think he knows the gravity of the moment, which is important.”
So, what’s FloTro, and what’s the difference between it and retro? That’s another ingredient to Chef Curry’s secret sauce.
The Brands Within the Brand
Currently, Curry Brand product touches the categories of golf and kid’s clothing. Still, basketball is the base with Steph’s on-court wears ranging from new signatures to two takes on old favorites: retro and FloTro.
Retro is self-explanatory: offering one-to-one bring-backs of Under Armour Curry signature shoes from Steph’s iconic past. Sometimes, it’s old shoes in classic colorways; other times, it’s nostalgic makeups redressed in new themes or collabs, such as February’s Under Armour Curry 1 Retro released with Museum DC.
“When we collaborated with Museum DC, we had lines wrapped around the corner for a 10:30 a.m. release,” Curry Brand Global Merchandising/Senior Merchant Steve Segears told Boardroom. “People were waiting outside since 2 a.m. with light snowfall and chairs camped out.”
As alluded to, the retro range of releases strikes a chord with fashion through collaboration, making models made memorable by Steph on the hardwood even more lovable in the lifestyle space.
Conversely, the modern merger of past and present is FloTro: updated takes on old Steph signatures sporting the new Flow foam that the four-time champion swears by. The term FloTro plays off Kobe Bryant’s Nike branding of “Protro,” which essentially means performance retro. Leveraging function over pure fashion, Curry’s FloTro sneakers are built to compete.
Steph started this new subline with the Under Armour Curry 4 FloTro in 2022. Later this year, the Under Armour Curry 1 FloTro will release, translating this past-meets-present theme with hologram branding that shifts from old to new. Not only does FloTro allow the opportunity to bring new energy to old models, it gives the brand a second chance to sharpen the specs when returning to the market.
“We knew some of the things in the past that may have made people not get to the Curry 4, like the ease of entry or the tooling,” Segears said. “Now, we see these two worlds collide: an iconic shoe and the greatest tooling of all time.”
In March, Curry Brand brought in The Museum DC again to launch the FloTro 4 while also introducing their aptly named Curry Flow Cozy: a casual and comfortable model meant for running errands more than running up the score.
“It’s our to-and-from shoe,” Segears said, smiling. “I’m from DC, and people have asked me if Steph is from here because they feel so ingrained in the stuff he does.”
By becoming multifaceted in models and ingrained in various communities, Curry Brand aims to grow organically with the same spirit as Steph.
Last season, the brand brought out regional releases in Under Armour’s backyard while Steph sported Black designers on his back when arriving to games in The Bay. Next year, the two totems will collide on an array of products that pairs African American-owned companies with the platform of the Curry Brand through collaboration.
“We’re all about taking advantage of his tunnel looks,” Segears shared. “It’s about focusing on smaller regional brands and giving them Steph’s platform.”
Once again, it’s signature Steph.
“Steph started the Underrated for people that didn’t have major colleges knocking on their doors,” Segears said. “He’s taken that to golf and basketball, so why don’t we do that from a design standpoint? Giving up-and-coming artists the opportunity to leverage his platform and get stuff on him? What we get in return is regional relevancy. “
Through multiple silos within Curry Brand, the brand is seeking global and local dominance sooner than you might think.
2022 & Beyond
The first half of 2022 couldn’t have gone any better for Curry Brand. Steph took home his fourth title, earned his first Finals MVP, and hosted The ESPYs. At retail, the back half will be just as busy.
From the Curry 10 to FloTro 4s and FloTro 1s, Curry Brand has big plans in the near future. This September, they’re launching collaboration programs with big box retailers such as Shoe Palace and Foot Locker. In November, they’re dropping a global initiative said to be on the same level as last season’s Sesame Street collection.
All the while, old favorites are being brought back very carefully.
“We’re being really, really intentional about how we launch retro styles,” said Drew, who keeps in close contact with the brand’s namesake superstar. “Because we have so many touch points with him now instead of these official big meetings? The communication about the brand is very fluid. He’s super involved, which makes our jobs considerably easier.”
Drew brought up that Curry Brand Senior Footwear Designer Ed Wallace has already finished next year’s Curry 11 — said to shift Flow and the future of basketball to where Steph sees it going. Seemingly, just as Steph provides the pace on Golden State’s championship offense, he directs product flow for his growing company.
“Sports have taught me so much,” Curry told Boardroom in 2021. “And now Curry Brand is the expression of driving that mission home with everything that I do.”
Holding court on calls, wearing hats of the NBA championship and Curry Brand variety, CEO Steph is diving headfirst into building his own business beyond basketball.