Xtep International Holdings, a leading Hong Kong-listed mainland sportswear company, is repositioning itself to capture the youth market. 'Most of our consumers are students who love sports and entertainment and, in order to target these fashion-conscious customers, we have asked celebrities to promote our products,' said Ding Shuipo, Xtep chairman and chief executive. The brand's 'ambassadors' include singer-actor Nicholas Tse Ting-fung and pop icons Twins from Hong Kong, and Taiwan's Jolin Tsai Yi-lin and Wilber Pan. 'These celebrities are popular in China. Their healthy, sporty image has helped us to market our group. For example, Wilber Pan plays basketball well. He is also energetic and fashionable. Therefore, by asking him to be our ambassador we could raise awareness and our customers would get the message that our brand is a trend-setting sportswear producer,' Mr Ding said. 'Since our aim is to be the top fashion sportswear producer, we prefer selecting entertainment idols as representatives rather than other sportsman, which makes us different from other sporting brands,' he said. The group will extend its network with events involving the pop stars, such as sponsoring concerts, new CD promotional campaigns and autograph sessions. The company will hold 10 concerts, called Xtep's Five Stars Concert, on the mainland's main cities next year, with performers wearing Xtep brand apparel and footwear. Aware that it cannot just rely on celebrities to attract young consumers, the group has also focused on designing new products that will meet the latest fashion trends beyond traditional sportswear. Trendy themes, such as music, cars and navigation, are incorporated into its products. Taking advantage of the Beijing 2008 Olympics Games, the group held various Olympic-related functions. And, although it was not an official partner at the Games and was therefore unable to display its brand logos extensively, it provided shoes, clothing and accessories for the Belarusian national team which wore the items during awards ceremonies and other social events. Xtep also sponsored one of the four Olympic trains used to promote the Games. Operated by China's Ministry of Railways, the passenger train provided transportation between Beijing and Shanghai during the Games, and was decorated with images of the Olympics and the group's logos. The group also designed Olympic-related sportswear to boost sales during last month's Games. 'The Games were well-organised; it becomes a milestone to develop the sportswear market in China,' Mr Ding said. In the spirit of the Olympics, sports participation of the general public has been encouraged by the central government. More people are interested in doing sports, and the sales of sports products is expected to increase accordingly. Average sales per retail outlet of Xtep brand increased by 45.4 per cent this year compared to last year. However, Mr Ding said he expected performance of the sportswear industry in general to be 'relatively bad' for the rest of this year largely due to the end of the Games. As the largest domestic fashion sportswear brand, in terms of revenue last year, the group is planning to keep its leading position by strengthening the fashion value in its sportswear products. Mr Ding said the group continued to develop innovative design and technology of new products by investing in research and development (R&D) to meet the latest market needs. In the first half of this year, the group introduced 1,121 kinds of footwear designs, 1,347 types of apparel designs and 1,075 types of accessory designs to the market. About 400 staff in the three superior product design teams and one R&D team are working with well-known South Korean and French design companies, such as South Korean-based C&T Fashion Planning and Branding Consultancy. To enhance the appearance and quality of its products, the group has invested more than 22.5million yuan (HK$25.65 million) on R&D, almost 2.4 times more than last year. As a result, most of the group's footwear products contain nano-silver anti-bacteria chemicals, which are capable of killing 99per cent of the bacteria on the material. Fragrance is another feature of the latest sports shoes. It lasts for about three to four months, without affecting the durability of the shoes. This feature is imported from suppliers in South Korea and the group owns exclusive rights to use it. Mr Ding said the group hoped to become the world's top fashion sportswear company in terms of revenue in the near future. He said the group planned to expand its branding in the international sportswear market.