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Li-Ning Returns To Hong Kong After A Decade

Li-Ning Returns To Hong Kong After A Decade

China’s sportswear giant Li-Ning is making an ambitious second try for the Hong Kong market by leasing a 7,000-square-foot duplex store on the prestigious Canton Road, once populated by mainland tourists. This will be Li-Ning’s only flagship in Hong Kong and is expected to open in the fourth quarter of 2022. According to local media, the rent is $254,806 (HK$ 2 million) — 70 percent lower than the previous tenant’s lease.

Back in 2009, Li-Ning opened its first boutique in the city but announced its closure only three years later in 2012. At that time, the company’s spokesperson stated that the firm’s business in Hong Kong was still in an exploratory phase and was intended to be carried out in a risk- and cost-controlled manner. In 2012, the pains of rapid expansion at home and abroad became evident — in mainland China alone, it closed a total of 952 branches in the first half of the year, stating that “now the focus is on the development of the mainland market.” 

A decade later, the group is returning to the region in an attempt to claim market share. Li-Ning in recent years has undergone a total makeover: from a homegrown sports label to a powerful household name. In 2018, Li-Ning debuted at New York Fashion Week and proudly showcased its “中国李宁” (China Li-Ning) logo on the runway collection. Since then, the brand has largely benefitted from the rising guochao trend, beating many international rivals in the mainland.

In 2018, Li-Ning debuted at New York Fashion Week and proudly showcased its “中国李宁” (China Li-Ning) logo on the runway collection. Photo: Weibo

The outfit has certainly amassed a cult following in the domestic market thanks to patriotic shoppers and ever more sophisticated offerings. Yet, being a native mainlander will not necessarily play in favor of the Chinese sportswear concern in the eyes of Hong Kongers, who traditionally show a greater preference for western (and even Japanese or Korean) names. 

Li-Ning seems determined to cement its reputation in the city with such a statement location, offering an in-store experience aimed at transmitting its brand philosophy, products, and services to the consumer. Perhaps the line is hoping to capture the future influx of mainland Chinese tourists once the borders become easier to cross, but that’s not the only goal, says Hong Kong retail and fashion expert Jimmy K. W. Chan, founder of Semeiotics Ltd. “With the new direction of the Chinese central government cultivating ‘new patriotism,’ especially targeting consumerism, the move by Li-Ning makes perfect sense. Partially a showcase to the world, partially maybe to show support to this new directive.” 

“I think they’re not just targeting mainland shoppers. I think and hope it is a branding/marketing exercise as well,” Chan adds. “It’s a mix I’m sure. I believe Li-Ning is and will be the first super brand to come from China, if it isn’t already.”

The name isn’t the only one to invest in Hong Kong retail after the city had suffered over several years. Luxury maisons Dior, Lanvin, Miu Miu, and Patek Philippe have all flocked to open new stores. And Harbour City — Hong Kong’s largest shopping center, located on Canton Road — is set to open 100 new boutiques in the next two years. 

All eyes are on the reopening of Hong Kong’s borders, and many have an optimistic forecast of the revenge shopping that will follow when tourists return. Now, the race is on to occupy the best landmark spots on Canton Road at a drastically reduced rent, and Li-Ning is definitely not letting the opportunity slip away.

Additional reporting by Jing Zhang 

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