By Sportswriters Zhang Yueshan, Bai Xu and Liu Yang
BEIJING, March 25 (Xinhua) -- 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.
Xtep' s strategy was to target customers like youngsters and runners, so it made its products brightly-colored, and suitable for running. After marathon fever began sweeping over China, Xtep sponsored dozens of marathons across the country, which helped its running shoes grow in popularity.
The Star effect was another method that the company used. Big Chinese sneaker companies based in Jinjiang, including ANTA and 361 Degrees, have signed with NBA basketball stars like Kevin Garnett and Klay Thompson to promote their brands internationally.
In addition, Jinjiang' s sportswear enterprise is reaching for a more vital role on the national level. In 2009, ANTA inked a four-year contract with the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC) to provide sportswear for the Chinese delegation at international competitions. In September of 2017, ANTA signed an eight-year deal to become an official sponsor of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
"ANTA will not only provide high-quality service to Beijing 2022, but will also work to help promote the development of winter sports in China," said Zheng Jie, executive director of ANTA Sports.
Zheng and Ding Shizhong joined the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games torch relay at the invitation of Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee.
Ding said that it was the second time for him to serve a torch bearer since the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, and compared to 10 years ago, he now has "a different sense of mission." "This time I came here at the center of the world-class stage as a representative of the rising Chinese brand," Ding said.
FUTURE OF THE "SPORTS CITY"
Jinjiang 's sportswear brands are also aiming to expand their reach to other sports fields. One example came on March 14, after 361 Degrees released its plan for developing e-sports. By working with the top Chinese e-sports club QG, 361 Degrees will attract more young customers, who are the main driving force in e-sports.
Thanks in large part to the rising influence of Chinese brands, China' s sports industry has grown rapidly over the past several years, with a total output of 1.9 trillion yuan (about 294.1 billion dollars) in 2016, according to figures jointly released by the General Administration of Sport and the National Bureau of Statistics in January. By 2025, the scale of the market is expected to reach 5 trillion yuan (about 773.9 billion US dollars), according to a government plan. Along these lines, China will build a collection of domestic sportswear brands with strong competitiveness in the global market.
Jinjiang now boasts more than 3,000 sportswear companies, and in 2016, the total value of its sports industry had reached 147.2 billion yuan (about 23.3 billion dollars), contributing to 34% of city's overall industrial value.
In the long-run, the "city of sportswear" aims to upgrade itself to the "city of sports." Recently, the Jinjiang government has mapped out a plan to speed up it sports industry through investment, technological innovation and public service. It says that by 2020, the overall scale of Jinjiang' s sports industry is expected to reach 180 billion yuan (28.3 billion US dollars), and 3 billion yuan in terms of consumption, with more than 40% of its residents taking part in regular exercise.
Jinjiang will host Gymnasiade 2020 and four consecutive FISU University World Cups in football in 2019, 2021, 2023 and 2025. These events will be a great opportunity to show the world that Jinjiang is more than a city with a booming manufacturing base, placing it at the center of the world sporting stage.
At a party last year marking the tenth anniversary of ANTA's public listing on the markets, Ding Shizhong sang a song that is one of the most popular among people speaking the Southern Fujian Dialect: "Dedicate Yourself and you Will Win." This saying is also the slogan of ANTA Sport. In the future, Jinjiang plans to go all out to make its dream come true.