Image credit:
Louisa Smith
Extremsport-Equipment auf der ISPO Beijing 2024.
Image credit:
Louisa Smith
Sports Business/01/19/2024

ISPO Beijing: A country wants to get outside!

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From the Great Wall to the Great Outdoors: ISPO Beijing 2024 has finally proven that the whole of China is hot for camping, vanlife and outdoor adventures. This offers opportunities for all sports and outdoor brands - both Western and Chinese.

Outdoor sports build self-confidence. Anyone who has scaled a summit is proud of what they have achieved and boldly tackles new challenges. This is exactly how the new generation of domestic brands will appear at ISPO Beijing 2024. With creative self-confidence, partly paired with ingredient brands, the Chinese market is producing new brands while the sports and outdoor sector continues to grow.

Hitting the show and the mood was pumping, ISPO Beijing is unique compared to other China exhibitions in that it creates an environment, from the exhibitors' stands and collections to the vast amount of buyers, seriously sourcing. There is a community feel emerging in this business, a sporting spirit, with the show providing activities from climbing walls to pickle-ball courts. 

For the China market, it is important to approach from a different standpoint. China is no longer a market open to all overseas brands, it is ready to match any brands coming through as the level of design and desirability appeal.

Louisa Smith is a globally recognized textile and fashion expert. Her innovative spirit and expertise make her a sought-after opinion leader in the textile industry - also in the sports and outdoor sector. She is a leading jury member for the ISPO Textrends Awards and presents them once a year at ISPO Munich. Louisa also supports the ISPO Award team with a sustainability check and checks the sustainability information of relevant products - for more transparency and real change in the sports world.

A country on the move

The Chinese Government’s national fitness program, promoting leisure and fitness participation is paying off, as sports are becoming increasingly popular in this vast population. The aim, when launched in 2014 was aimed at enhancing people's physique, improving people's health level, and realize the general goal of building a strong sports country. A decade later it is working, as sports and outdoor activities have become a significant part of the population’s free time.

An influencer has her photo taken at ISPO Beijing.
Gen Z in China today is self-confident.
Image credit:
Louisa Smith

At ISPO Beijing, fitness, winter sports, cycling, climbing and the all-inclusive diversity that brands offer in street sports was evident throughout the show, where a positive vibe emanated, driven by China’s Gen Z, keen to flex their cultural and creative confidence, a notable change to previous generations, where China was just seen as a manufacturing base. A big shift is also the push in outdoor activities, camping, hiking and taking time out, as this new generation pursue.

The shift in perspective is evident with the brands. A decade ago, China’s domestic brands would have paled in significance and design detail and performance to Western brands, today it is a different matter, China’s leading brands are standing shoulder to shoulder with their Western counterparts. Today, China’s brands are confidently growing, appealing not to just the first and second-tier cities but further inland to the emerging cities and mass population

Sports trends in China 2024

The growth sectors in sports and outdoor activities include fitness, road cycling (super hot) and skiing. But the skiing isn’t just for the traditional slopes and resorts. Much investment has been made in the country for outdoor man-made ski resorts with artificial snow. The appeal of the outdoor experience is encouraging, especially towards Gen Z and Y consumers.

There is a shift to pursuing reducing consumption of luxury fashion brands and investing in performance gear that can be used outdoors, as China’s younger generations pursue that work/life balance, an aspect that wasn’t available in the past without the intensive work style of the previous generations. The younger consumer is realising that time is precious and priceless and they want the best of both worlds. 

On Running and Hoka have both made inroads at retail in the China market, as traditional luxury brands take a dive in profits, is it the sports brands taking the credit? As with everywhere, Chinese consumers have felt a tightening of their ‘digital’ purse strings, as the economy slowed, playing a much more conscientious role in purchasing.

Dermizax at the ISPO Beijing 2024.
Dermizax was very present at the trade show.
Image credit:
Louisa Smith

Good foundations

When it comes to a great product, it isn’t just the design that counts, but the ingredients and what was clear at the show is that this matters in the China market. Sourcing quality ingredients that perform and adhere to a higher level of sustainability and functionality was evident, with Toray’s Dermizax DWR membrane sponsoring the billboard at the entrance to the show, highlighting the importance that these brands play in building up a product.

It isn’t just the creativity that has increased, it is the wider understanding, that by using premium ingredients, you create quality fabrics and trims. The textile industry in China is a competitive one, but those who are embracing performance textiles are likely to stand their ground. For traditional textile mills offering basics, it is a tough business. 

Internationally awarded Fujian-based Unitex is a case in point, not only do they pursue a high level of sustainability in terms of production through renewable energy and state-of-the-art machinery for their warp and circular knits, but it is the use of global ingredient brands that confirms their commitment to premium quality. Hyosung, HeiQ, Nilit and Polygiene are just some of the ingredients that complete their performance fabric collections, being sourced by Western brands but also domestic brands.

The importance of this quality was also evident in the busy ISPO Textrends forum at the show, as visitors sourced new ingredients. Down and insulation, a big player in the China market for winter sports and lifestyle was eagerly being sourced as 3M who provide Thinsulate and Downplus, the leading down supplier. Beijing alone can easily reach -15 °C, so it goes even colder further afield. So insulation is key!

Bluesign technologies paved the way for cleaner technologies with their booth, highlighting the benefits of sustainability and responsible textile production. Sorona, the bio-based synthetic yarn, did a great job in highlighting it is partner mills that have been awarded in the current and previous ISPO Textrends, once again confirming the importance of partnerships and accreditation.

People are interested in the ISPO Beijing 2024 Textrends.
The ISPO Textrends Forum met with great interest.
Image credit:
Louisa Smith

The Great Outdoors

With highly populated cities, considering Beijing’s 21.54 million, there is little space. Now consumers want to experience the outdoors, and one really popular area is camping. From tents to camping equipment, escaping the urban lifestyle for the expanse of the countryside appeals.

A wide range of products featured from Chinese brands, offering lightweight performance and traceability, is steadily growing in importance. Other outdoor sports from hiking to climbing are also fuelling a growth area for apparel and equipment. 

Rooftop tents and camper vans at ISPO Beijing 2024.
Camper vans and roof tents are becoming increasingly popular in China.
Image credit:
Louisa Smith

Creative confidence

With premium brands in play in sourcing to deliver performance, you still need creativity in design. Having spent over 20 years visiting the China market, what is clear now is that Chinese brands have it. There is a sense of pride in being Chinese, and this has accelerated over the last four years. 

In terms of design with a hint of China heritage, Uzsquare offered a contemporary ski and snowboard collection that wouldn’t look out of place in the luxury echelons of Europe. ISPO Beijing wants to encourage homegrown creativity and innovation through the New Brand Hub, where start-ups are featured. Blue, a newcomer showcased their urban/outdoor collections, a versatile offering that will appeal to Gen Z. Fitness and outdoors newcomer PMGT is also one to watch, with Far Eastern authenticity and inspiration featuring in the design.

Looking to the past has always been a strong inspiration to Western designers, and Chinese designers have now realised they too have a very strong source of inspiration, not just appealing to the domestic market but globally.

UZSQUARE is an up-and-coming brand from China.
Uzsquare has nothing to hide from the western snowboard brands.
Image credit:
Louisa Smith

The West often have a misconception that China is a copier and manufactures cheap quality. This isn’t the case. The China brands at the show were sophisticated and compliant in the end activity.  The encouraging signs of homegrown brands and their popularity make them more competitive with overseas brands entering the market. But, with the size of the market, there is room for everyone. 

At SJ, founded 20 years ago by established Belgian shoe manufacturer Safety Jogger Works, presented the eco-driven collection at the show for the China market. The SJ shoe brand is sold in 130 countries, but this year the focus is on the China market. The advantage this European brand has is its established manufacturing base in the country, but they have also taken into account changing the sizing for the market. 

Onwards and upwards

With the atmosphere pumping and the positive vibe from exhibitors and visitors alike, ISPO Beijing proved that this market is alive, with a vast base of consumers looking to incorporate sports and the outdoors into their lifestyles. And, the good news is that it hasn’t got anywhere near reaching its peak. There is so much potential, but for Western brands considering it, don’t expect it to be easy, there is a lot of great competition already there. 

Why is ISPO Beijing 2024 important for sports and outdoor brands?

The expo provides a platform for both Western and Chinese brands to showcase themselves in the emerging Chinese outdoor market, exploring opportunities in camping, van life, and adventure sports.

How has the attitude of the Chinese population towards sports and outdoor activities changed?

Thanks to a government-led national program initiated in 2014, sports have become more popular in China. People are increasingly engaging in leisure and fitness activities, making sports and outdoor pursuits a significant part of their leisure time.

What sports trends are observable in China for 2024?

Growing sectors include fitness, road cycling, and skiing. Skiing, in particular, is gaining popularity, even in artificial ski resorts. Younger generations are investing more in high-performance equipment and seeking a better work-life balance.

What is important for Chinese consumers when purchasing sports equipment?

Alongside design, the quality of materials plays a crucial role. High-quality, sustainable, and functional foundations are highly valued. This is reflected in the increasing importance of brands like Dermizax and Unitex.

Why has camping become particularly popular in China?

In densely populated cities like Beijing, people are seeking nature experiences. Camping, hiking, and climbing are gaining importance, with Chinese brands offering a wide range of products emphasizing performance, lightness, and traceable materials.

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