Li-Ning dives into the American marketplace yet again. This time via ecommerce and Facebook.

In our China Youth Culture Studies, the sportswear brand Li-Ning continues to crawl up the ranks as a top preferred brand among 15-25-year-olds. Interestingly however, in the United States (and elsewhere), it’s one of the biggest global brands that nobody really knows.

On Monday, they launched their ecommerce site,, in English, and Facebook, announcing plans to go after the big sports brands in the U.S., Nike and Adidas– this time through ecommerce targeted to American consumers

The problem for Li-Ning, and many Chinese brands coming into America is the perception that China brands or “Made in China” means an inferior product. In addition, Li-Ning, while prestigious in China and named after the famed Olympic athlete, isn’t that different in the minds of Americans to that which is made by Nike and Adidas. What doesn’t help also is the Li-Ning logo which is very similar to the Nike swoosh.

Still, as we pointed out in our “China: America’s New Fashion Market” there are brands, especially niche streetwear and action sports-inspired brands that are making an impact on certain segments of youth culture across China, but also, vice versa thanks to a growing movement in music, street art, gaming, and streetwear that is crossing over to American demographics.

Li-Ning is approaching the United States again (they were somewhat unsuccessful in 2007, when they also opened up an office in Portland, land of Nike and Adidas), via ecommerce, which could tap into the growing segment of young people who primarily shop online. Li-Ning is investing some $100 million in global marketing in the next 5 years. Their plans for the U.S. include starting with basketball, running, and women’s fitness, but with their signature Eastern philosophy that emphasizes spirituality rather than brute strength. Think Lara Croft instead of the Terminator.

Most apparel and footwear will start rolling out during the 2012 London Games. The secret? Well, one of them, as CMO Frank Chen described, is a low-profile sneaker/shoe that looks somewhat parkour style, or as Mr. Chen put it, “Think Ninja.”

Li-Ning is also looking at sponsoring NBA basketball players next season.

One point that Mr. Chen also made is that by focusing on ecommerce in this market, it is territory that Nike and Adidas can’t be too aggressive in without risking a backfire from their store channels and pissing off the likes of Footlocker. Li-Ning has nothing to lose by such a strategy.

Chen also wrapped it up by admitting that to capture youth culture, branding has to come from a teen-to-teen angle rather than father-to-teen, which marks another change in strategy for Li-Ning. By 2018, they hope for half of their international sales to come from the United States.

Overall, the incoming presence of the sleeping giant Li-Ning into the United States and Europe via ecommerce (and the London Games), could put significant pressure on youth culture brands especially in the footwear and sneaker industries.

For more information about Label Networks’ China Youth Culture Studies and Profile Reports, email; (323) 630-4000.