How Chinese sports brands are conquering the world

Not everyone will be able to keep their spirits up after a failed sports career, drop out of school and start their own factory. Today we will tell you about three Chinese giants in sportswear and footwear production. 

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Li Ning: The Prince of Gymnastics Who Changed the Notion of Made in China

It’s not uncommon for stars from the sports world to start their own clothing company. You can think of the examples of Rene Lacoste, Fred Perry, and Greg Norman. They were widely known in the West, unlike Li Ning, the most titled Chinese gymnast in history.

In 1990. Li Ning, 26, launched his own brand of sportswear: drawing on his personal experience, he began to produce goods from quality materials using the latest technological developments.

Li Ning provided the athletes with their uniforms for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the “prince of gymnastics” was honored to light the torch during the opening ceremony. Li, who was floating above the stadium on wires, was wearing their brand’s outfit and their brand awareness increased significantly after this event. 

At first, the brand was considered old-fashioned, so it could not attract the attention of young people. But over time, the company managed to combine youth culture, patriotism and traditional Chinese design: the 2018 collection was presentedon the runways in New York and Paris.

The company’s shares have been traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange since 2004. Today the market capitalization of Li Ning exceeds 177 billion Hong Kong dollars. The brand’s revenue according to the results of 2021, was 22.57 billion yuan, and its net profit reached 4 billion yuan.

Xtep: movie stars and marathons – confidence in every step

Xtep International Holdings Limited (Xtep) is a Chinese company that began as a manufacturer of sports equipment and is already known worldwide for its high quality clothes and shoes.

To launch its own brand, the company’s management decided in the early 2000s. A local movie star, Nicholas Tse, was invited to represent it, which was the first time in history when a show business star became an ambassador of a sports brand in the PRC.

Since 2015, the company’s main focus has been the production of professional sportswear and footwear for runners. Xtep sponsors more than 30 marathons around the country each year: runners wear the brand’s products, thereby promoting it.

The company now sells its products in 40 countries and has a market capitalisation of more than 2 billion euros. As of 2021, the company had revenue of 10 billion yuan and a net profit of 908 million yuan.

Not “Nike for China”, but “Anta for the world”

In the 1980s and 1990s, Chinese companies began to make big money by producing goods for the West. In those years, 17-year-old Ding Shizhong dropped out of school, borrowed 10 thousand yuan from his father, and bought 600 pairs of sneakers from his uncle’s company. With the goods he went to Beijing, where he successfully sold everything, and then he returned home and opened his own factory to produce shoes for foreign brands.


When after 5 years Dean got tired of making sneakers with the logos of other companies and receiving a relatively low profit, he decided on an unusual step for that time – to found their own brand Anta. The young entrepreneur ambitiously declared that they wanted to create not “Nike for China”, but “Anta for the whole world”. And today the company is among the top ten global brands regarding sales.

After the 2008 Olympic Games, customer love for the sports segment subsided, and Anta had a new goal: not to depend on market cycles. Ding Shizhong spent two years studying consumer preferences and sales patterns in China. The company invested in research and development, improving the quality and specifications of the products. This has led to the fact that today Anta has about 1,500 innovative patents.

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Afnan Tarar

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