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