Counter Kicks caught up with Jay Li, General Manager at Li-Ning USA, to talk about the Chinese sportswear company’s entrance into the U.S. market, overarching brand strategy, and where he envisions Li-Ning to be 10 years from now. Continue reading for the full interview…
Counter Kicks: I read an article where you said that Li-Ning coming to Portland was like putting its toe in the water. Talk a little bit about that and what’s going on here.
Jay Li: Well I always say that the whole sportswear and sneaker business is very much marketing led. Everybody runs in with marketing investment up front and sign a star athlete and make a big push. But I want to run this in the United States, in North America, as product led. We want to make sure, first of all, that we have a relevant product. The BD Doom is the example of that. Until you have a relevant product, all of the marketing spent is just for nothing. The sneakerheads are very authentic, they are authenticity driven. If they recognize you as a wannabe, they see through you. So until we have a relevant product, I’m not going to rush into the market – that’s what I meant.
CK: What does it mean to have someone as authentic and really dedicated to your product as Baron?
Li: Baron is the ultimate collaborator. He participates in the entire design process. You won’t believe how many times I’ve had to fly down to LA to meet with him – he’s looking at all the details: “The eyebrow on my logo isn’t right. It needs to be tilted this way.” He’s looking to that level of detail in terms of design feedback, which is great. And he loves it too because when he was with other brands they never treated him that way. As he said in his interview earlier, they just throw him a shoe and tell you “Wear it. That’s your team color.” So he loved the ability to collaborate with the designers and come up with a relevant product.
CK: Do you see yourselves working with other athletes in the future.
Li: We already are. We already have Jose Calderon with the Toronto Raptors, we just signed Hasheem Thabeet who is with the Memphis Grizzlies, so we’re already working with a lot of athletes to develop products.
CK: What’s your ultimate goal for the future, being in the United States?
Li: Well there is no denial that we have ambitions to be a global brand. And my ultimate goal, personally, and I believe I speak for the brand, is that we want to create the first Chinese brand. So let me ask you this question, since you are in the field, name a Chinese brand. Anything.
CK: Now you’re putting me on the spot – I’m supposed to be asking the questions!
Li: I have to turn the table on you a little.
CK: Well I don’t think I know any Chinese brands…
Li: That’s the problem! Everything you buy, 90 percent of the stuff, is going to be made in China. If you think back in the 90′s, if I asked you back then to name a Korean brand, you wouldn’t know. And today, name a Korean brand? Hyundai, Samsung. When you buy a Hyundai car or you buy a Samsung TV, you don’t think of them as Korean anymore, you think of them as global. 10 years from now, I want people to buy a pair of Li-Ning shoes or a Li-Ning jacket thinking that they are a global brand that just happens to be Chinese. That’s my ultimate goal.
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