When the Chinese delegation was led into the Pyeongchang Olympic stadium at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics one month ago, they sported white outfits which caught the attention of winter sports fans.
This white-on-white outfit was produced by ANTA Sports, China's leading sportswear brand with a market value ranked third in the industry globally, after Nike and Adidas.
"We reached a partnership agreement with the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC) for cooperation in the fourth Olympic cycle starting in 2009," said Ding Shizhong, CEO of ANTA Sports. This means that during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, the ANTA outfits will mount the podium and attract attention yet again.
Last year, ANTA sold 60 million pairs of shoes, which, if put end to end to make a line, would span 1.5 times the flight distance between Beijing and Los Angeles. The group also sold 80 million pieces of clothing and its market capitalization exceeded 100 billion HKD (about 12.8 billion USD) as of January 2018.
ANTA is an epitome of a successful sportswear brand. It's based in Jinjiang, southeast China's Fujian province, a city known as the world's largest production base for sneakers. Jinjiang produces 40 percent of the country's sports shoes and 20 percent of the world's, with many big brands like Xtep and 361 Degrees being produced there.
SNEAKERS AND SURVIVORS
Once an important port city on the Maritime Silk Road, Jinjiang has a tradition of cultural exchange and overseas trading. Since China's reform and opening up in the 1980s, merchants from Jinjiang made full use of the city's geographical advantage to sell goods from overseas to other places in China. Many of them found that sneakers were quite popular among buyers.
Eratat is known to be the first shoe company in Jinjiang, and claims to have produced the first pair of sneakers in 1983.
In 1987, 16-year-old Ding carried sneakers produced in Jinjiang to Beijing. Four years later, he started up ANTA company, although "there was still no such concept as 'sports footware,'" he recalled.
But Chinese people began falling in love with trainers, which they could wear playing basketball or football, or when climbing mountains. "There were wholesale markets all over China," Ding said.
Ding described growth of the industry as "explosive," when the number of sneaker factories mushroomed in Jinjiang, vying with each other for market share.
The industry saw its peak around 2008 when China hosted the summer Olympics. At that time Jinjiang was home to more than 3,000 factories including 21 listed enterprises.
"After that, however, the problem of excessive supply was aggravated, as so many factories were turning out similar products," Ding said.
In the cut-throat competition that ensued, many of the brands once advertised by celebrities were gone, leaving ANTA, Xtep, 361 Degrees among the survivors.
SECRET TO SUCCESS
Ding Shizhong says his secret to success is innovation. "In 2005 ANTA set up China's first high-tech sports science lab," he said. Expenditure in research and development grew from one percent at the beginning to its current level at 5.8 percent of annual revenue. ANTA has also set up design centers in the United States, Japan and South Korea.
"I have been a customer of ANTA for four years since I was a freshman, when I was playing basketball, ANTA was the only brand I wore for sneakers. They are durable and of good quality," said a college graduate.
"In China, the middle-class is rising," Ding said, explaining that this is how ANTA managed to acquire several international brands, including FILA, Descente and Sprandi. These acquisitions have brought more customers from high-end brands and introduced ANTA to a global market.
As of June 30 last year, ANTA had opened 67 more FILA outlets to bring the total number to 869, as well as 15 more Descente outlets in China. These outlets are mostly located in big cities.