Top Chinese Brands 1 - Li Ning

It's not always easy to come up with a post, especially when there isn't that much going on and the ones I'm thinking about haven't been fully formed. Wang Jianshuo has a great look at Shanghai malls today which he beat me to as I was planning on one about Beijing coming up soon.

When you do go to a mall in Beijing or Shanghai or anywhere else in China, you are bound to see this:

which looks surprisingly similar to this:

However, the first logo is indeed unique and belongs to Li Ning. There never appeared to be a case because Li Ning's logo design predates China's "stricter" days of IP/Copyright protection.

Li Ning is founded by the famous Chinese gymnast of the same name who became a national hero after winning 6 medals, including 3 golds, at the 1984 Olympics. After retiring from competition, Li started his sportswear company in 1990 and worked hard to grow the business. With his fame and connections, he was able to turn the company into a major national brand, moving ahead of fellow Chinese competitors. The brand was quickly adopted by the Chinese gymnastics team and was worn by all other Chinese competitors on the medal stand in 1996, 2000, and 2004 (can't confirm '92). Unfortunately, the Chinese Olympic Committee is going with Adidas for the 2008 Olympics.

Over the past few years, Li Ning has changed from battling against Chinese brands like Anta and Kangwei to going head to head with the major international brands like Adidas and Nike in China and has even expanded abroad. The team has sponsored a few other national gymnastics teams and has a deal in place with Sweden and Spain (not sure how much those deals cover). They've also signed Chinese international soccer players like Li Tie, Zhao Junzhe, and Gao Lin to shoe deals. From that, they've expanded into the NBA signing Damon Jones last year and this year their biggest signing so far (in more ways than one), when they got Shaq.

For the most part, their gear is priced below the international competition, but above the Chinese brands. In recent years they've branched out with the creation of a teen's line and a line of golf clothing. A lot of their designs aren't quite ready for prime time, but for the most part, their products are high quality sports wear that would fit in at any gym or sports competition in the US.

As of yet, it doesn't seem like Li Ning has any plans to expand into the US, instead focusing more on continuing its strength in the domestic market and its minor expansion into Europe. A US expansion may be difficult for a number of reasons. A main point of contention would be the name, with growing fears in the US about the trade deficit with China, a Chinese brand with an obviously Chinese (or at least foreign) name may not go over well with Americans. However, those in China are lucky enough to find this brand and can now wear it with pride, knowing a bit more about the brand. In light of the fact Li Ning lost its sponsorship with the Olympic committee, will it start losing its market share inside China or will it continue to offer strong competition to the major foreign sportswear companies?

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