Li-Ning: With New Design to New Strength

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The Chinese sports brand Li-Ning looks back on a successful year. Despite all prejudices against Chinese design, it was the new design strategy that brought the sports giant international success in 2018. Instead of continuing to try to imitate the big Western market leaders with similar collections, Li Ning ventured into an independent, Chinese retro design at New York Fashion Week last February.

Li-Ning Shoes in modern and Chinese design
Li-Ning wants to focus more on an independent, modern and Chinese design in the future.

The international fashion press was thrilled. This also boosted sales in the domestic market: After difficult years, the company made good progress for the first time in 2018. In the first half of 2018, sales rose by almost 18 percent. There are currently 6,898 Li-Ning stores. At 90 percent, the majority of sales are generated in Asia, followed by Europe and America.

Jean Chen, Senior Apparel Designer at Li-Ning, talks to about the new design and the new demands of Chinese consumers.

Jean Chen is Senior Apparel Designer at Li-Ning
Jean Chen is Senior Apparel Designer at Li-Ning and responsible for the brand's premium and streetwear lines.
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Li-Ning Is a Serious Competitor for the Big Players Mr. Chen, Li-Ning is celebrated in China and internationally for its new design. What is your design strategy?
Jean Chen: I am responsible for Li-Ning’s premium lifestyle collection as well as Badfive, our streetwear urban collection. The design strategy for Li-Ning’s Lifestyle offering could be concluded using the following words: Chinese Heritage, Modern Design, and the Li-Ning brand’s Sport DNA.

Sports apparel is dominated by the big brands like Nike and Adidas. What differentiates you from these big players?
Li-Ning is the only Chinese sports brand that has existed for almost 30 years. From a design perspective, this gives the brand a unique starting point, one that is quite different from the other big brands. Our point of view comes from a strong mix of traditional Chinese elements, modern design based on the desires of today’s young consumers, and most importantly the fact that we have a rich archive of products to continuously inspire us to move forward.

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Transformation of the Chinese Market

Li-Ning is especially well recognised in China. Are Chinese consumers now turning more towards Chinese designers and brands? How is Chinese design changing now?
Indeed, Chinese people show a youthful attitude towards their consumption. Young generations pay attention on design, function and brand connection. For Li-Ning the situation is quite unique. The company’s founder Mr. Li was honoured to experience a significant time period as part of the Chinese Olympic team.

This led to his name being quite well known in China. During the past year, using our unique design DNA, international platforms and story telling, we have reminded young consumers of this positive story and encouraged pride within them towards the Li-Ning brand and its Chinese heritage.

What kind of products are successful in China? Which are selling better in the EU and US market?
We have noticed that in China the most popular products are those which include elements from Chinese Culture as well as story telling from our archives. The US and Europe are also attracted to these elements as they provide a new point of view on athletic products that have not been seen before.

Li-Ning Runway Model
Chinese consumers like Li-Ning's new progressive look.
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Another Focus Is Set on Online Shopping

How big is Li-Ning in China or Asia yet - how big in the EU and the US market? 
In China, Li-Ning has become an athletic brand of first choice. As of June 2018, Lining Group's revenue reached 4.713 billion RMB, an increasing of 17.9 percent compared to the same period in 2017. There are 6,898 offline Li-Ning stores. In terms of international business, our corporation now covers 49 countries, of which about 90 percent come from Asia, followed by Europe and America. For the US and Europe we will start a slow and strategic distribution strategy in 2019 that focuses on the best fashion, streetwear and sneaker stores in those regions.

With the rapid development of information, today more and more consumers, especially young consumers, prefer online shopping. Li-Ning also actively develops overseas businesses through cooperating with e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Aliexpress.

What Is to Come in Li-Ning's Upcoming Product Line

Where do you get your inspirations from?
We are inspired by Li-Ning’s rich history and archive, Chinese culture and traditions, as well modern design and trends. We combine these in an honest form to create something new and unique.

What is your plan for the next seasons?
We plan to continue to push our lifestyle offerings further, providing inspirational products to both young Chinese consumers as well as opinion leaders of the US and Europe. Furthermore, as a professional sporting goods brand, we have always believed that sports can inspire the power of human breakthrough.

We have also been committed to provide consumers and sports fans with professional sports equipment, to help them improve their performance and avoid injuries. In the upcoming season, we will integrate improved functionality and fashion in the products of our collection.