Is Li Ning Ready To Challenge Nike In China?

What Happened: On March 26, the Chinese sportswear giant Li Ning announced boy band X NINE member Xiao Zhan as its global ambassador for trendy sports products. In its campaign post, the idol wears a full Li Ning look, which sold out in under twenty minutes online. The hashtag #LiNingofficiallyannouncesXiaoZhan gained over 1 billion views as a shopping frenzy took hold. With consumers desperate to buy the collection, the company released a full list of the 83 offline boutiques that offer its products, where they were quickly snapped up, as well.

Li Ning has appointed Chinese idol Xiao Zhan as its newest ambassador. Photo: Courtesy of Li Ning

The Jing Take: Li Ning’s appointment comes at a time when enraged netizens want substitutes for Western brands that have been embroiled in the Xinjiang cotton controversy. Amid the current backlash faced by international competitors, chiefly Nike and Adidas, Li Ning’s shares jumped to 10.74 percent, indicating a surge in support from local patriotic consumers.

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Yet, support for the domestic group had already been steadily building. In 2020, Li Ning saw its revenue increase 4.2 percent year-on-year to $2.2 billion. Native brands are clearly benefitting from China’s rising appetite for “guochao” (国潮) among the younger generation, and the “Made in China” label is no longer considered poor quality but rather a source of pride.

In recent years, the affordable sportswear brand has started to rebrand itself by showcasing its fashions on an international stage and evolving with the middle-to-high-end sportswear market, allowing it to compete with Western sportswear brands. The current “guochao” trend is advantageous for the brand, and Zhan’s 28 million followers will surely help boost Li Ning’s image. For the moment, it will be hard to estimate the long-term impact of the Xinjiang controversy on international players. But the rise of local brands will undoubtedly continue to derail global brands in the Mainland.

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.


Fashion, Market Analysis