Behind the Romance of Hajime Sorayama and Li-Ning

Key Takeaways:

  • Chinese sportswear powerhouse Li-Ning has collaborated with world-famous Japanese artist Hajime Sorayama twice over the past year.
  • The Lets Sports Light Your Passion collections feature a sci-fi take on the Shadow sneaker silhouette and other streetwear items sporting Sorayama’s illustrations.
  • Jing Daily interviewed the brand and artist about how they started working together, the benefits of their collaborations, and what it meant for their existing identities.

The cyborg goddesses of Japanese illustrator Hajime Sorayama inspired the Fall ’95 Thierry Mugler show and later decorated skateboards by Medicom; streetwear by Dior, Stella McCartney, and BAPE; and phone cases by Casetify. KAWS and Sorayama even released a Companion figure in 2008.

But over the past year, all eyes seem to be on the artist’s collaborations with Chinese sportswear powerhouse Li-Ning. In December 2020, the two names released their first sneakers and streetwear capsule, followed by news of a second in China and Japan this November (global release dates have yet to be revealed).

Hajime Sorayama and Li-Ning reveal a second drop of the “Let Sports Light Your Passion” collection. Photo: Li-Ning

As founder of China-focused digital marketing agency Qumin, Arnold Ma stated in Jing Daily’s China Cultural Consumer report, Li-Ning has transitioned from being known as a less-globally-known, local brand for millennials who grew up in China to a sportswear giant in 2021. Its reel of collaborations reflects as much, with the last month alone seeing launches alongside Parisian footwear label Maison Corthay and Strawberry Bear from the Disney movie Toy Story 3.

Sorayama told Jing Daily that collaborating with Li-Ning was “a passionate call of love from either side”; it’s the ultimate merging of one of the biggest Chinese labels with an iconic contemporary artist. Of course, collaborating with a highly-esteemed name that holds a loyal fanbase is always attractive to a brand in the midst of winning impressive international recognition.

“Mr. Sorayama is a well-known artist with a great reputation within popular culture,” said a spokesperson for Li-Ning. “We had the opportunity to share Li-Ning’s Olympic tour and sports career with Sorayama, and [the artist] was moved by his legendary stories. Therefore, we were both looking forward to expressing the spirit of sport through this collaboration.”

Li-Ning hajime sorayama artistic collaborations

The collaboration has attained global attention largely due to Sorayama’s loyal fanbase. Photo: Li-Ning

The sportswear company, founded in 1990 by Chinese gymnast Li Ning (who carried the torch for the Asian Games in 1990 and the Beijing Olympics in 2008), inspired the Sorayama collaboration title: Let Sports Light Your Passion. Alongside a streetwear capsule, the most recent drop was accompanied by a Sorayama artwork called “Torch,” which represents the brand’s significant Olympic history.

With this collaboration, the 31-year-old sportswear brand increased its pop-culture relevance, but it also found a new design angle. Meanwhile, the world-renowned illustrator made his work more accessible to wider audiences. “I am not interested in material things,” Sorayama explained. “However, if someone cannot buy one of my artworks, they can buy my clothing collaborations and familiarize themselves with my work in that way, so that is good!”

The collection combines Li-Ning’s contemporary artistic nature and the sci-fi aesthetic of Sorayama’s Sexy Robots. Photo: Courtesy of NANZUKA

Li-Ning recognizes how the new global trend of brand-artist partnerships helps both sides. “The artist expresses and extends the brand spirit and concept from an art perspective, he said. “And that increases the brand’s versatility and art.” He added that this partnership is the first true blend of art and commerciality for the sportswear giant.

As one of the only clothing and footwear brands to thrive during the pandemic, this pivotal partnership with a world-famous artist makes sense as the brand’s next step. As one of the most sought-after artist-collaborators, Sorayama said success is all about sticking to what you like and where you see your strengths. As Li-Ning emphasized the artistry that Sorayama brought to this collaboration, Jing Daily asked Li-Ning what he thought was the key to successful art, to which he replied: “Whether it sells or not depends on luck. But if you have real talent, your work will get valued sooner or later.”

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Collabs and Drops, Fashion, Global