LONDON — Chinese sportswear giant Li-Ning will reveal its spring 2022 collection on Friday with a physical fashion show in China’s duty-free shopping hotspot Sanya, Hainan Island, WWD can exclusively reveal.
The show is a key component of the brand’s inaugural Reframing Perspectives music festival. Targeting China’s music-loving and fashion-savvy younger audience, the event sets up a 150-meter-long mirror installation to showcase different pillars of the brand: movement, adventure, extreme sports, and explorations of the great outdoors.
Li Ning, founder of the brand and Olympic gold medalist, described the festival as part of the brand’s “ongoing quest for creative expression.”
“Here we reveal diverse yet synchronized modes of creativity so that we may interpret sport and fashion from new angles. Both the festival and the spring 2022 Li-Ning collection bring us closer to expressing our true selves, so that we may harness the core spirit of Li-Ning. Anything is possible,” he said.
Yuru Hong, chief product and marketing officer at Li-Ning, added that showing at the sunny and tropical Sanya “fits perfectly with this season’s theme, which revolves around outdoor activities and extreme sports.”
The multiday festival will also include performances by the popular Chinese band the Big Wave; rappers Youngjack, Akiki Jing, and Chapper; as well as an art installation, extreme sports competition and winter beach carnival.
The collection to be revealed is based on the brand’s core identity: clashes of color and relaxed, exaggerated, loose silhouettes. It includes a mix of the brand’s various lines, with the majority being its premium Li-Ning China line.
It also includes a six-piece all-black Chinese paper folding art-inspired capsule, which intends to explore new possibilities in sports gender identity, as well as 15 looks from the Li-Ning x Jackie Chan collaboration.
Footwear-wise, the show will see the debut of multiple new or adapted styles in restrained color palettes, such as the Cosmos Premium, a model based on Li’s 1992 award-winning shoes. The Millennium Era model comes with an exaggerated structural design, which gives it an overall effect of intense wrapping and support.
According to Liad Krispin, brand consultant for Li-Ning, who has played an instrumental role in transforming the brand since 2017 from an average Chinese mall brand to a sportswear giant making buzz on a world stage, some 30 percent of the collection will be made available shortly after the show.
Since its global debut at New York Fashion Week’s China Day in February 2018, Li-Ning’s has become one of the fastest-growing publicly listed apparel companies worldwide, with its current share price over 15 times higher than before the New York show.
With over 6,940 points of sales across China, Li-Ning has also built an impressive global profile by collaborating with Stefano Pilati’s Random Identities; Neil Barrett; Yu Prize winner Chen Peng; Soulland; Erik Ellington on a skateboarding line, and NBA stars like Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, D’Angelo Russell and CJ McCollum, as well as hosting fashion shows during Paris Men’s Fashion Week.
“I keep hearing that every Chinese brand is trying to copy what Li-Ning is doing, and that is such a compliment,” Krispin said, adding that the brand works in China because it efficiently embeds the Chinese identity, futuristic fashion and streetwear attitude into a sportswear brand, something few Chinese brands have managed to achieve.
In the third quarter of 2021, growth at the brand slowed from 65 percent in the first half of 2021 to around 20 to 30 percent.
In response to the change, the brand said premiumization and global expansion will be the two ways to speed up growth again.
Last month, Li-Ning revealed its high-end line 1990 collection, which bears a motif comprised of three of its original logos, used when the brand was founded in 1990. Similar to Y-3’s positioning for Adidas, 1990 puts a focus on style with function and heritage.
A week before unveiling 1990, the brand also revealed that it planned to sell around $1.35 billion worth of new shares to its major shareholder, Viva China, which is controlled by Li, to raise capital for investment in newly launched product categories, and for international expansion.
Hong revealed that basketball and running are two of the brand’s biggest categories, and on top of introducing skateboarding, Li-Ning is also launching a snowboarding line around the Beijing Winter Olympics.
He added that while Li-Ning is not the main sponsor of the Winter Olympics, it will serve as the sponsor of many athletes and associations that will participate in the event.
This includes speed skaters the Liu Brothers, Liu Shaoang and Liu Shaolin, who are part of the Hungarian team, as well as Max Parrot, a gold medal snowboarder and World Big Air Champion. Snowboarder Brooke Voigt and the entire Canadian national snowboarding team are also sponsored by Li-Ning.
In terms of global retail, which represents around 1 percent of its total revenue, the brand now works with a selected but growing amount of retail partners outside of China, including Ssense, Kith and End Clothing.
Li-Ning has also launched a U.S. online operation with a dedicated site for Wade’s co-branded Way of Wade collection. The brand will celebrate its 10th anniversary with Wade next year.
Hong revealed that an additional European and American premium online operation will go live in February 2022, in partnership with the Italian e-commerce specialist Level Group, the owner of LN-CC and La Double J.
The site “will showcase the best the brand has to offer,” such as premium runway pieces, the skateboarding line, designer collaborations, and maybe even rare drops like the hyped Li-Ning x Hajime Sorayama capsule.
“The brand outside China is somewhat a niche and small brand. We wanted to make sure that it is positioned in a very high-level way. We bring it to the market very slowly and make sure people understand what it’s about. We are creating demand and then we grow it from there,” Krispin said.
“At the moment, the stores do small buys. New arrivals get sold out very quickly. We keep getting messages on Instagram, asking about where they can find the pieces. So we’re trying to make things more available,” he added.
While the brand doesn’t have any concrete plans in terms of physical retail, Hong said that in the long run the brand is looking to open flagships in major cities such as New York, London, Paris, Berlin and Tokyo.