Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
A clothing collection from Chinese sportswear brand Li-Ning is facing criticism, accused of looking too similar to Japanese military uniforms.

‘It hurts our feelings’: why Chinese people are angry over sportswear giant Li-Ning’s new line, and how the situation is spiralling

  • Chinese internet users are demanding a boycott of Li-Ning for launching a clothing line with a design they say resembles Japanese military uniforms
  • The company defended the collection, while one executive accused consumers of too little ‘education’. Now people are turning on the Chinese-Japanese co-CEO

Chinese sportswear brand Li-Ning is facing criticism for launching “Pursue a Dream”, a clothing collection that resembles Japanese military uniforms.

The outfits debuted at a fashion show held at an airport in late September, and the olive green colour – widely used in Japanese uniforms during World War II – soon drew the ire of Chinese social media.

More strikingly, the line featured hats with ear flaps. Some internet users found them similar to the military headgear that Japanese soldiers wore.

“Boycott Li-Ning! It designed uniforms for the Japanese invaders. It hurts our feelings,” one user of China’s Twitter-like microblog Weibo said, comparing images of Li-Ning’s new designs to Japanese soldiers during World War II.
The outfits debuted at a fashion show held at an airport in late September.

Another said: “A large-scale fashion brand like Li-Ning has many processes and review systems on its design. Such a mistake is almost impossible.”

A month after the clothing line launched, the company posted a response on Weibo.

“The design of the Pursue a Dream product is based on the theme of ‘flight’ and draws inspiration from the pilot’s equipment. Among them, the most discussed pilot cap design comes from ancient Chinese helmets, outdoor caps and cotton caps.”

Why Anta Sports and Li-Ning are big in China, and nowhere else

Some of the company’s executives came out with their own responses publicly before the brand’s belated announcement.

Feng Ye, the general manager of e-commerce at Li-Ning Group, said that the company should avoid having more of their designs misinterpreted. He also added that consumers have “too little understanding and education of Chinese culture”, which only served to add fuel to the fire.

“The manager condescends to educate consumers, and treats them like the enemy,” one Weibo user hit back.

The new line featured hats with ear flaps. Some internet users found them similar to the Japanese military headgear.

The company’s executive director, Li Qilin, posted pictures of Chinese and Soviet Union soldiers wearing similar hats on his own Weibo account. Li did not add any context to the post, and his account now cannot be found. The Post has contacted the company for comment but has not yet received a response.

The brand has also drawn criticism for having Kosaka Takeshi, a Chinese-Japanese man who originally went by the Chinese name Qian Wei, as co-CEO.

Kosaka was born in China’s Shaanxi province and has led the growth of Japanese fast fashion brand Uniqlo in mainland China, Taiwan and South Korea.

“After knowing that the CEO of Li-Ning is Japanese, I have no desire to buy it at all. I am a sensitive consumer,” one internet user said.

China’s fashion nationalism: reds, yellows and Chinese characters

The brand, however, might be specifically targeting the “sensitive” consumer, as one of the main factors driving Li-Ning’s boom is an ever-growing sense of nationalism that has led to the boycott of Western fast-fashion brands.

The brand kicked off its guochao plan in 2015, marketing products designed with Chinese elements. The term is a trend that translates as “China chic”.

One of Li-Ning’s most well-known designs is of the four Chinese characters reading “Chinese Li-Ning” against a red background.

In 2018, the brand showed at New York Fashion Week.

In 2018, the brand showed at New York Fashion Week, and the company’s revenue has dramatically increased since its focus on guochao. In 2021, it exceeded 20 billion yuan (US$2.74 billion).

International fast fashion brands like H&M, Zara, Gap and Old Navy have narrowed or even withdrawn their operations in China. In June, H&M announced it would be closing its flagship store in Shanghai, while Gap closed its stores and announced clearance sales in August.

International sports brands such as Nike and Adidas have seen a huge drop in China sales this year. Nike’s revenues in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan fell 20 per cent in the second fiscal quarter of 2022.

One of the main reasons Chinese consumers are boycotting these brands is for their public statements over their stances on Xinjiang cotton and for refusing to use Xinjiang cotton in the production of their garments, because of allegations of forced labour.

China denies the accusations.