Nike is a business built on sneakers (paywall). It doesn’t want competitors muscling in on its turf, and Under Armour—with a lot of help from its signature line with NBA star Stephen Curry—has been doing just that.
But Nike may have just tripped up its competitor. As the sneaker blog Nice Kicks first reported, Nike has apparently hired away Under Armour’s top designer, Dave Dombrow. While Nike is always looking to sign up the best design talent and companies regularly poach staff from one another, it’s also arguably a “tactical win,” as an analyst for investment banking firm Jefferies described it.
Dombrow, who is Under Armour’s senior vice president of design, led development on a number of the brand’s major footwear projects, mostly notably the Curry line. That shoe, named for the seemingly unstoppable Golden State Warriors point guard, has given Under Armour—still overwhelmingly an apparel business—its first big foothold in the lucrative sneaker market. Dombrow also spearheaded design on a few models of running sneakers that have started to gain market traction.
According to WWD (paywall), Dombrow is under a non-compete agreement that wouldn’t even let him start work for Nike until 2017, but by poaching Under Armour’s star designer, Nike could slow Under Armour’s momentum—and get some new design talent, especially for its basketball sneakers, to boot.
Quartz has reached out to Nike and Under Armour for comment and to confirm the reports. Nike had no comment. Quartz will update this post with any reply from Under Armour.
Under Armour isn’t an imminent threat to Nike’s hold on sneakers. In fiscal 2015, Nike clocked $30.6 billion in global sales, while Under Armour did just shy of $4 billion. And in the US, Nike and its Jordan subsidiary own more than 90% of the market for basketball sneakers, according to the research firm NPD Group.
But Under Armour’s sneaker business is rapidly growing. The company’s footwear sales increased 95% over the previous year in its fourth quarter. The real threat it poses is years down the road—if Nike doesn’t pay attention.
Under Armour has been actively competing against Nike to get kids wearing its products at a young age. That’s probably why Nike felt the need to hastily create a basketball tournament for America’s best high-school players in the Bahamas last year, during the same three days as an annual tournament Under Armour holds.
Meanwhile, every three-pointer Stephen Curry sinks convinces more kids to pick his Under Armour sneakers over LeBron James’ Nike sneakers.
What Nike doesn’t want is more pictures like this one.