China’s homegrown running shoe brands chase global giants

China’s leading domestic sports shoe makers are ready to take on the world with their own brands after decades of producing hundreds of millions for the likes of Adidas and Nike.

And they’re doing so from the heart of the country’s shoe manufacturing hub, in Jinjiang, Fujian province, where Adidas and Nike set up their own manufacturing bases back in the 1980s.

Anta Sports, Xtep and 361 Degrees International have raised millions on the Hong Kong stock market and are ready to apply all their learnings (and capital) to take on world-leading brands, the South China Morning Post reported.

The strategy appears clear – raise capital, buy or partner with overseas brands, strike sponsorship deals and utilise data.

Xtep, after spending years making shoes for Nike, had a breakthrough in 2000 when it was endorsed by Hong Kong celeb Nicholas Tse; it listed in Hong Kong in 2008, raising US$285 million, and saw sales surge 25% last year to 6.4 billion yuan.

It has now partnered with Michigan-based Wolverine World Wide, which owns, among other labels, running specialist Saucony. Last month it paid $260m for E-Land Footwear.

Anta Sports Products, China’s largest domestic sports-shoe producer by value, led a $5.15bn consortium buy-out of Finland’s Amer Sports, adding to its earlier acquisitions of Fila and Japan’s Descente.

Xstep and Anta are following a multi-brand strategy, according to the Post, using a selection of brands to attract a variety of tastes, age groups and budgets.

Their target market is a cross-section of consumers, particularly in the country’s largest cities, where foreign brands have tended to dominate.

The sport of running, especially, is seen as Xtep’s conduit to the global sports shoe market.

Running as a sport is relatively new in China, but the number of races and runners is growing fast, providing large amounts of data to innovate in terms of shoe design and performance.

“We want to be the preferred running brand in China,” Jason Cheung Tak-man, Xtep chief scientist, told the Post.

“Once that market niche is achieved, we have a chance to compete with all other brands in the world,” he added.

Sportswear sales in China are forecast to rise by 45% between 2018 and 2023, reaching $58.2bn, according to Euromonitor – largely driven by the growing numbers of the middle class with a greater interest in lifestyle.

Sources: South China Morning Post and WARC

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