Chinese sportswear company Li-Ning is fast becoming one of the hottest brands in the sportswear market. While few can measure up to the success of Nike and Adidas when discussing brand presence and value, Li-Ning has made impressive headway in recent years and could one day challenge the frontrunners in this competitive sector.

In terms of numbers, the Chinese brand trails behind its more established rivals. Both Nike and Adidas boast a market value of USD34.8b (S$46.3b) and USD16.4b (S$21.9b) respectively, according to Statista. Li-Ning’s market value is USD6.88b (S$9.05b), which is impressive for a company that was only founded in 1989.

Li-Ning AW20
Expanding their reach in street wear (Image: Li-Ning on Instagram)

The Making Of A Sports Giant

The company was founded by former Olympic gymnast Li Ning in 1990. In the span of three decades, the eponymous company has grown into a proverbial sportswear powerhouse. In 2019, the Chinese firm enjoyed a 200 percent surge and emerged as a top performer on the MSCI Asia Pacific Index.

According to Morgan Stanley, a large part of Li-Ning’s success is due to the growing sportswear market in China. As such the brand is not only the best gainer among apparel firms globally, but it has also regularly outperformed its illustrious rivals in terms of growth on the stock market.

The foundation of Li-Ning’s success can be traced to how it has successfully utilised sports marketing’s tried and tested formula. By this we mean collaborations with global sports leagues and star athlete endorsements. Thus far the brand has also partnered with the NBA and major sports events like the Olympics.

The Beijing-based brand has also entered endorsements deals with global athletes such as Shaquille O’Neal, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, as well as made headway into fashion by debuting a streetwear collection just two years ago. Part of the brand’s success story is also rooted in its ability to keep up with the times.

Li-Ning has been an ardent supporter of esports, sponsoring several Chinese esports organisations and teams. It has also expanded its presence in the highly competitive basketball sneaker market with the help of notable player Wade.

Dwyane Wade Li-Ning
Dwyane Wade and Li-Ning have a successful partnership (Image: Way of Wade on Instagram)

The Way Of The Wade

Clearly there are similar parallels between Li-Ning and Nike within this popular sportswear segment. The American brand singlehandedly revolutionised the basketball sneaker market with its highly successful partnership with Michael Jordan. The Chinese brand has seemingly borrowed a page from that playbook with a ground-breaking partnership with Wade.

The Miami Heat point guard famously left the Jordan Brand for the Chinese apparel company in 2012.  Over the course of their partnership the basketball player was instrumental in the brand’s production of basketball and lifestyle apparel. Together they also produced Wade’s signature basketball shoe, Way of Wade.

Just like Jordan’s partnership with Nike, Wade and Li-Ning have produced several editions of the basketball shoe. And they will continue to do so for a long time too. The player and the Chinese athletic apparel company inked a lifetime partnership deal in 2018.

Since retiring from professional basketball in 2019, the three-time NBA champion has focused his attention on building the Way of Wade brand. He personally selected D’Angelo Russell from the Minnesota Timberwolves to become the new on-court face of the brand. With his ties in hip-hop, he also signed on Miami legend Rick Ross as the brand’s first endorsed artist.

Li-Ning Way of Wade 9
The Way of Wade 9 (Image: Li-Ning)

If The Shoe Fits…

Most recently, Li-Ning unveiled Wade’s latest model, Way of Wade 9. A cutting-edge shoe, the high-tech basketball sneaker boasts advanced BOA fit system and BOOM midsole technology.

It also features a high-tech construction centred around a molecular motif, which gifts it a futuristic look. That said, the new sneakers have drawn some controversy with their apparent similarities with Jordan shoes of the past.

Some critics have pointed out similar design elements the shoe has with the Air Jordan 2010 as well as the Air Jordan 34 and 35. Although that is up for debate, there is no denying that the Way of Wade 9 is impressive. And most importantly, perfect for both on and off court performance.

Wade’s new sneakers will be offered in low-top cut with traditional lacing and a high-top lace-less system. The new shoes will not only help grow Li-Ning’s presence in America but also maintain its local market share.

According to the NBA, China has 300 million who play basketball. As such it remains a critical market for sneaker brands. With a homegrown brand such as Li-Ning making great strides in the sportswear market, it is only a matter of time before it starts making a serious run against its more established rivals.

written by.
Richard Augustin
Former chef turned writer; Richard has tip-toed around the publishing industry for two decades. When not busy chasing deadlines, you can still find him experimenting with recipes in the kitchen.

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