Chinese Sportswear Brand PEAK Chases American Dream

Company Follows Domestic Rival Li Ning In Setting Up Shop In American West Coast

LA Lakers player Ron Artest is one of the 12 NBA players who currently endorse PEAK

LA Lakers player Ron Artest is one of the 12 NBA players who currently endorse PEAK

Although names like Anta, Li Ning and PEAK don’t yet ring the same bells stateside as Nike, Adidas or Puma, over the past several months we’ve seen concerted efforts by these three homegrown Chinese sportswear brands to change that. Led by Li Ning — which opened its first U.S. retail location in Portland, Oregon this February, and recently signed a multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal with NBA rookie Evan Williams — Chinese sportswear brands that have seen great success at home but are virtually unheard-of overseas are making gradual advances towards the cut-throat American market.

Last week, Anta signed Kevin Garnett as its second NBA spokesman (following Houston’s Luis Scola), and now PEAK — which, despite its low name recognition, has already signed sponsorship deals with more than 10 NBA players (including Jason Kidd) — is looking to break into the American market. Recently, the company opened its first U.S. office in Los Angeles, with hopes of launching its first retail locations in 2011.

From Slam Online:

The LA office that the brand has set up is the first building block of establishing its US presence. The office’s function for the time being is first to facilitate the NBA players they’ve sponsored and second to begin working towards an American product launch in mainstream retail outlets for 2011.

“We’re just introducing ourselves and currently we’re taking care of the players here and providing them apparel and product that they can work out in. We just want to be equipped with product and we’re getting that figured out,” Su explains.

“Asian fit and American fit is very different, so … as well as preparing product for retail we’re getting samples back and making revisions and hopefully we’ll be ready to go.”

Like Douglas says, it’s more than shoe fit that the US extension of PEAK will have to adjust to. It’s also a totally different culture.

“When we get things in from PEAK China, they’re things that people would not wear here, so it’s totally different,” she says. “I think the biggest challenge is trying to completely redo what they’re doing over there and try to build a Peak US.”

It’s interesting to compare the American growth strategies of these Chinese sportswear makers to the European and Japanese brands who preceded them. While Japanese brands like Asics targeted the long-distance runner market (and the Asics-owned Onitsuka Tiger caught on with retro sneaker enthusiasts) and European brands like Adidas diversified their products across a wide range of sports, it appears that Chinese brands are placing all of their bets on the basketball shoe market. This immediately places them in direct competition with established, well-capitalized companies like Nike, which controls 93% of the American basketball shoe market.

While the choice to focus on the NBA is somewhat understandable — it is, after all, hugely popular not only in the U.S. but also in China — these brands are likely to pigeonhole themselves before they even have a chance to try other sporting markets. Although Li Ning is already trying to branch out into other areas, such as shoes and apparel designed with badminton in mind, without getting into the American football, baseball, and running markets, these brands might be limiting the scope of their brand-building potential in the American market before they really even get off the ground.

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