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Outdoor sportswear, new fashion in the making

By He Yini and Liu Zheng | | Updated: 2013-03-25 17:52

If you think you are mistaken for seeing the Li-Ning brand at the 9th International Tradeshow for Sports, Equipment and Fashion in Asia, or ISPO, held in Beijing, you are not!

The struggling Chinese sportswear giant that warned of substantial full-year losses last December is now extending its outreach to the outdoor industry, but this time, with a new look and a new partner.

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Li-Ning Adventure, with a bamboo green logo, is a new product line run by a startup in Beijing, authorized by Li Ning Co.

For Li-Ning Adventure, it hasn't been easy to find a market niche in the industry, as Chinese outdoor sports fans seem content with established brands like Toread and Nordica.

But Hu Nan may have figured out a solution.

Hu Nan, general manager of Li-Ning Adventure, said: "To seek a way out, we are trying to make it unique in design and development. (Li-Ning Adventure) is a Chinese brand, so adding a few Chinese elements would make it different from the international brands. On the other hand, even when integrated with imported designs, it won't be a mere replica because we have our own ideas. To succeed in the industry, we have to be unique.

Our core customers are aged between 30 to 45 years old. We actually did research into that. These people are relatively mature, some married or even with children. And they have a stable income. They go for outdoor activities with their families on weekends or holidays to relax and enjoy (the nature). So it's safe to say that our customers are mostly middle class."

Unlike the debut of Li-Ning Adventure at the ISPO Beijing, this marks Andrew Stead's company's third appearance at the event.

Andrew Stead, market support of an exhibitor, said: "Yeah, it's our third extend. It's my first year doing it, but our third year doing it overall. It's bigger than my expectations, actually. I didn't expect it to be this big, and this many different companies."

While showing us one of the products specifically designed for children, he told us that there will be a big demo by his company during the Austrian Charity Ski Race held in the Secret Garden of Hebei province in the coming weekend.

Over the past few years, indoor sports have been giving way to outdoor activities in China as people now have deeper pockets and more time for leisure.

Guo Fenglei, engineer, said: "(What I've seen at the event) are the new trend of newly-designed products made of new materials this year."

And this is inadvertently galvanizing a market that thirsts for outdoor sportswear and equipment for activities like mountaineering and skiing.

Dr. Oskar Andesner, commercial counsellor of Austrian Embassy, said: "Of course China is huge market, but not until now. China in the past didn't know very much about skiing because it was not popular ten years ago. Skiing in China maybe (has) developed since ten years (ago), slowly. Since the last two, three years, it's developing very fast. I'm here now in China for a little bit over five years. I'm organizing this showcase or group-stand of Austria since over four years (ago). Four years ago, we did it for the first time. They had only five or six companies. Now we have fourteen companies. We have thirteen companies in addition to make showcase here, I mean. So we want to bring the Austrian companies here to introduce themselves to the Chinese market because nowadays when I go to the ski areas, I see that the Chinese people want to buy their own skis, they want to buy their own jackets. Everything of the equipment, they want to buy their own. Before, everybody was only renting equipment because maybe they didn't have so much money. Nowadays, people have more money. And not only they have more money, they want to have nice equipment, nice jackets, nice trousers, nice boots, and nice skis. Skiing is expensive. But (there are) enough people in China who can afford it. At the moment, not so many Chinese people are coming for skiing. But we want in future to have more Chinese people to come for skiing."

Also wanting a piece of the pie, Guo Zhiqiang, who jointly owns two foreign trade firms with his friends, is on the lookout for opportunities at the tradeshow.

Guo Zhiqiang, director of Huasu Enterprises Ltd, said: "I wonder whether there are breakthroughs in the new products (on display), or whether there are still traditional models. I want to know more about the field. What I've noticed today really surprised me. Some are actually high-tech products in the industry."

Guo told us that he was amazed to find that outdoor sportswear is not just about quality, but about technologies and style. And he wishes to ride the wave.

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