Li Xinyang, an employee of a Shenzhen telecommunications company, dresses like a sports star on a budget. The 22-year-old wears a Li Ning T-shirt and a pair of 361 Degrees sports shoes on his weekend shopping trips. He is part of a growing band of loyal customers of the mainland's rapidly expanding sportswear brands. Foreign brands like Nike and Adidas are far too expensive for the young office worker. Earning slightly more than 2,000 yuan (HK$2,270) a month, Li spends about 200 yuan on clothes and shoes each month. 'It's much better to buy clothes with a brand name than something totally unknown,' said Li, who came from Yunnan to work in Shenzhen two years ago. 'At least people can tell from the logo that you are not wearing something too cheap. 'I know some foreign brands may be of better quality but local brands are often half the price of the foreign ones and they are also not too bad.' Sportswear is one of the fastest-growing consumer sectors as more and more Chinese like Li choose sports apparel as a fashionable and comfortable casual wear option for daily life. While Nike and Adidas hold the lion's share of the market, a batch of home-grown brands has elbowed their way in. They have aggressive expansion strategies, backed by reasonable quality products and cheaper prices. Nike and Adidas are the top two sportswear retailers on the mainland, with a combined 33.7 per cent market share in 2008. Li Ning holds 11.1 per cent, followed by Anta Sports Products with 8.6 per cent, according to marketing firm Frost & Sullivan. The home-grown sportswear retailers are making up ground quickly. Li Ning, Anta, Xtep International Holdings and 361 Degrees International all achieved 20 per cent to 40 per cent growth in both turnover and net profit in the first half of last year. Anta posted a nearly 40 per cent rise in annual net profit to 1.25 billion yuan last year and its rivals are expecting similar growth for the period. Li Ning, Anta and 361 Degrees all have in excess of 6,000 retail outlets. In Dongmen, one of the busiest shopping districts in Shenzhen, there are usually three or four retail shops under one Chinese sportswear brand on every street. Among the shoppers recently was university student Xu Jiangyan, who was looking for a pair of running shoes for his morning jogs. 'My budget is 200 to 300 yuan, which only allows me to choose from local brands,' the 20-year-old said. 'I know Nike might be a better choice but it would cost me more than 500 yuan.' Another shopper, Yang Gang, believes local brands are more attractive because of their cheaper price. A short-sleeved Adidas or Nike T-shirt is priced at 250 yuan while a pair of sports shoes ranges from 500 to 800 yuan. By contrast, a similar styled T-shirt from a local brand costs about 150 yuan while shoes are sold for between 200 and 400 yuan. 'Most of my sports clothes are from Anta or Li Ning,' said Yang, 28. 'What I am concerned with the most is whether they are comfortable to wear. And their prices are especially right for me.' The sports clothes market has changed a lot since the 1980s when a pair of white canvas shoes and a blue track suit were considered the ultimate sporting apparel. Nike was one of the first foreign brands to enter the market when it set up an office in the country in 1980. Since the 1990s, the mainland has attracted a range of brands including Adidas, Puma, New Balance, Converse and Columbia. Seeing the commercial opportunities, Chinese firms that used to make shoes and apparel for these foreign companies started to create their own brands. Home-grown producers such as Li Ning and Anta established widespread networks in second, third and fourth-tier cities. To boost the value of their brands, they are now opening more flagship shops in core cities as well as sponsoring major sports events and well-known athletes. But compared with foreign operators, they still have a long way to go before they reach the lucrative high-end market, which serves the booming middle-class. In the sportswear zone of a shopping mall in Shenzhen, the dozens of shoppers gathered at the Adidas counter outnumber those lining up to buy the Chinese brands. Yu Wen, 32, who bought a 95 yuan Adidas cap there recently, said there was a big difference between local and foreign brands. 'You tell by simply by touching the materials,' said the housewife. 'Anyway, the foreign brands are not so expensive for me.' Businessman Luo Shigang said he used to be a buyer of Chinese brands when he was a university student, but now had more expensive tastes. 'Frankly speaking, anyone who comes shopping in this mall would not care about the prices. What matters is style and quality,' he said. Swire Resources, the Hong Kong-based retailer that is the exclusive distributor of Columbia, Reebok and Puma on the mainland, claims it is not in direct competition with home-grown brands. Managing director Tam Lai-man said Swire's mainland business had maintained a 30 per cent growth rate over many years. 'We don't have direct competition with local brands because our customers usually will not turn to cheaper goods so long as they can afford to buy international brands,' she said. 'Anyway, China is such a big market. Each operator has enough space to develop at this stage.'