A Bossini store in Hong Kong

LONDON — Viva China, a venture company controlled by retired gymnast Li Ning, is planning to acquire a controlling 66.6 percent stake in Bossini, a Hong Kong-listed apparel brand for 46.6 million Hong Kong dollars, or $6 million.

Known as the “prince of gymnastics” in his competing days in the Eighties, Li founded his namesake brand in 1989 and it is now the second-largest Chinese sportswear company.

In recent years, Li-Ning adopted a well-received fashion-forward strategy and has been showing during New York and Paris Fashion Weeks. In January, Jackie Chan attended the brand’s 30th-anniversary show in the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Bossini in the past was one of the dominant fast-fashion brands from Hong Kong that expanded into mainland China and Southeast Asia in the Nineties and early 2000s. Founded in 1987 by Law Ting-pong and listed in 1993, it was seen as an aspirational fashion choice that represented Hong Kong’s affluent lifestyle when China was beginning its economic transformation.

However, Bossini shared the same fate of many of its high street peers, such as Esprit and Meters/bonwe. It began to see a dip in revenue from 2014 and a loss from 2018. In the second half of 2019, the company recorded a 20 percent decline in revenues and a loss of 82 million Hong Kong dollars, due to pro-democratic protests in Hong Kong, where 60 percent of its business is based.

Bossini had 287 directly managed stores and 799 export franchised stores in 30 different countries and regions as of Dec. 31. Some 180 of its directly managed stores are based in mainland China, mostly located in Guangdong province, with no current presence in Beijing or Shanghai.

Viva China said it has been actively seeking investment in an apparel brand since last year, and it cited the acquisition as “a good opportunity to expand its consumables business at a reasonable price.”

Having successfully transformed Li-Ning in recent years, Viva China said it aims to “rejuvenate the brand of Bossini with a younger image to appeal to the younger generation. It will also renovate the stores of Bossini to enhance its layout so as to create a more immersive retail experience to the customers and capture the minds of the young generation.”

It intends to expand Bossini’s distribution network to other cities in mainland China “by leveraging on Mr. Li Ning’s extensive business connections, in particular the network of distributors built up in different regions in the PRC and his strong presence in the sports-related and apparel industry,” according to a filing with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Viva China’s business portfolio spans sports competition, event production, facilities management, e-sports and sports-talent management. Last year it expanded into the development, design and sale of sports, health and leisure consumables.

Under Hong Kong stock exchange rules, after the Bossini deal for a majority stake is completed, Viva China is required to offer to buy out the remaining shareholders, which would lead to the company’s privatization. However, Viva China said in the filing that it intends to maintain the company’s listing.

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