Though the transition from no cotton to highly successful cotton product sounds simple enough, Mark Messura, vice-president of Strategic Planning for Cotton Incorporated, admits the product development phase was intense and compressed into a short time period from development to market.

And, he says the opening phases of their negotiations with Under Armour seemed more like the setting for a spy novel than a business deal.

Speaking at a press conference at the recent Beltwide Cotton Conference, Messura chronicled the series of events that flipped Under Armour from foe to friend.

“Our goal is to help U.S. cotton farmers sell more cotton. With Under Armour, we were working with a highly successful apparel company that used zero cotton. The same company used tens of thousands of bales with their first cotton product,” Messura says.

“While 2011 was good for cotton growers in terms of selling cotton for high prices, it was a very difficult year from the perspective of trying to sell cotton for products. Getting companies to look at cotton as an alternative was really hard, because polyester and nylon didn’t have similar run-ups in price for raw materials,” Messura points out.

Prior to their work with Cotton Incorporated, not only did Under Armour not use cotton, they were openly hostile to cotton in a number of long-running advertising campaigns.

“I remember walking into a Sports Authority store in Birmingham, Ala., and seeing a life-size display proclaiming ‘cotton is the enemy’ recalls,” Monty Bain, regional communications manager for the Cotton Board.

“I had to come see this press conference, because I still can’t believe it happened. I’ve been in the cotton business most of my life and to see that ad in a big, successful store was just infuriating. To think we are now partners, is truly amazing,” Bain adds.

Under Armour began in 1995 as an idea of company founder, Kevin  Plank, then special teams captain of the University of Maryland football team. Tired of repeatedly changing the cotton T-shirt under his jersey, as it became wet and heavy during the course of a game, Plank set out to develop a next generation shirt that would remain drier and lighter.

The partnership between cotton and Under Armour got off to something of a shaky start, Messura recalls. “We got a call from Under Armour saying they wanted to meet with us to see what cotton had to offer. After they agreed to end the ‘cotton is our enemy’ ads, we agreed to meet with them.

“On June 9, 2009, we met very secretly and very quietly in a remote building in a remote area of their sprawling Baltimore, Md. facility. We weren’t allowed to go into their main building, but here we were, two Cotton Incorporated guys meeting with the management team at Under Armour — a company that had previously called us their enemy,” Messura says.