The sneaker game is nothing but competitive. Most companies that seem to have their own brand identities, are really just subdivisions of sportswear empires. Converse became infamous teaming up rivals and friends Magic Johnson and Larry Bird for the still relevant Weapon sneaker. But now, Nike owns Converse, turning it more into a fashion brand with collaborations with American designer John Varvatos. Nike moved Dwyane Wade from Converse to Jordan Brand and taking away his signature shoe but making him the new main pitchman for the yearly Jordan release – this season the Jordan 2010. Adidas owns Puma, among other brands, so needless to say, it’s hard to be a new independent brand in the conglomerate market place.
Li-Ning Company Limited, is a major “sports brand enterprise” from China, that covers development, research, distribution, manufacturing, marketing, and of course, design. The company focusses on apparel, footwear, accessories and sports equipment. They’ve tapped athletes for sponsorship at home and abroad including the NBA market and are focussing on global expansion and market share.
Their list of athletes includes the effervescent Baron Davis. Not only is Baron a great point guard, but a film director, an actor and a well-known fashion plate in the NBA. When Boom Dizzle where’s something new, others take notice. His signature shoe, the BD Doom came out this season too much buzz and apparently a lot of on court questions from fellow players.
The logo for the shoe is without question, Baron himself – the Beardman, sporting his trademark homeless-chic beard. The shoe came in five different colour ways, all available for sale – something that major brands don’t always offer. LeBron James plays almost nightly in a different colour and style of his LeBron Air Max VII, but very few are available for sale. Baron’s sneaker offered customization with a variety of eyelets and lacing options. It also came with a vinyl figure, picking up on the collectible toy market that is so synonymous with street and sneaker collecting culture. The Beardman is also adorned on apparel like varsity jackets and tees. While it wasn’t the prettiest shoe, it certainly makes a statement – something the company needed to do to assert itself amongst the big sportswear dogs.
Li-Ning has taken this success and propelled it into building their first store front in Portland, Oregon, where the brand’s headquarters are state side. The flagship opened in January 2010 – not far from Nike’s compound in Beaverton, Oregon. With the opening of the store, Champs Sports announced that Li-Ning will be in 80 stores by this summer. Recently, Li-Ning expanded the Portland store and it now spans 2,200 square feet. The company wanted to display more than just their basketball lines and show a full variety of products, especially indoor sports. The showroom and retail store originally opened at 850 square Clearly, the company is doing something right.
To really compete with Nike, they need to continue their interesting shoes with viral campaigns, giving consumers something different. As a sneaker fiend, I’m over seeing every Jordan shoe bastardized into a new fusion model. Seeing something new, and not a company that lives in the past trying to capitalize on old classics shows true innovation and fresh ideas. It’s exciting to see what Li-Ning can bring and if they can continue recruit not only talented but interesting athletes, like Baron Davis and also Shaquille O’Neal, they can create a niche in the massive market. Bring on the Beardman.