Last year, when we released the “#10 Global brands to keep an eye on in 2021” in the middle of different Covid-19 waves in the region, we did not anticipate this global pandemic would continue to paralyze travels, isolate countries in Asia throughout the whole year and put China into a very unique position versus the rest of the world.
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When I was asked by Retail in Asia to contribute once again on a new ranking for 2022, I thought it was a good time to zoom into the rise of homegrown Chinese brands and to try to reflect, through those brands that may be unknown in the West, on the shift in Chinese consumers’ consumption.
While most of the markets in Asia and Europe were struggling with Covid-19 waves and brands and retailers were battling to keep their stores open and business alive through different lockdowns and restrictions, China local consumption rebounded quickly in 2020. It even accelerated in 2021 ( under a zero covid strategy and no external travels ) roaring ahead across all channels, categories, and generations, upgrading fast in retail hardware and omni-channel distribution. This provided strong opportunities for local brands to expand and upgrade in products and branding as well as take faster pace in innovation and market shares compared to foreign brands.
We believe 2022 will continue to accelerate this trend and the China market will become more competitive for international brands and even multinational corporations will face more challenges to navigate the distribution channels, increase in rent and staff costs as well as complex and sensitive marketing codes.
This new ranking focuses on Chinese brands across different product categories from automobile and fashion to sports and beverage, the list covers some key local changes and new retail components to keep an eye on in 2022.
In Sportswear: LI-NING
Li-Ning is the Chinese leader in athletic apparel and footwear, rooted in the vision of its founder and namesake, the champion gymnast Mr. Li Ning. He founded the company in 1990 with the simple goal of providing Chinese athletes a national brand to wear on the world stage of the Olympics.
Innovation is essential to the development of the Li-Ning brand and its products. By driving perpetual research and development, Li-Ning is able to offer the most forward-thinking products, experiences, and services, while using cut-through technologies and materials.
Being at the forefront of design, the brand collaborates with designers or artists. In June 2019 the brand announced a high- end footwear collaboration with the Stefano Pilati-helmed, Berlin-based, design collective, Random Identities. In 2020, the brand also announced a three-year partnership with Paris’ renowned cultural institution, the Centre Pompidou. In December 2020, Japanese Artist Hajime Sorayama and Li Ning released their first sneakers and streetwear capsule, followed by a second in China and Japan in November 2021 featuring skateboards, basketballs, sneakers as well as apparel.
Last year, Li-Ning debuted Li-Ning 1990, a new high-end line based on the brand’s heritage and Chinese philosophical principles.
Li-Ning continuously supports China’s gold-medal winning teams in diving, shooting, table tennis and badminton. The brand also aids top international teams, such as US diving, Canadian speed-skating and Australian badminton. Li-Ning is the sponsor of the China National Badminton Team and it supports many of China’s gold medal-winning players. In basketball, Li-Ning’s support is truly global in reach, through its sponsorship of and close collaboration with NBA superstar, Dwyane Wade to its national sponsorship of the Chinese Basketball Association.
As of June 2021, the total number of LI-NING point of sale in China amounted to 5,704. The brand is available globally through a network of stockists, ranging from: prestigious department stores such as Selfridges, fashion- forward concept stores like London’s LN-CC, Manhattan’s Premiere, downtown fashion emporium, KITH and online powerhouses SSENSE and Oki-Ni, to name only a few.
“We believe Chinese consumers will pay more attention to health and fitness in the post-pandemic era. This will help boost the demand for sports and health consumption. As one of the leading brands in the professional sports sector in China, we will keep closely abreast of the development trend of the industry, seize the new opportunities arising from the surging sports industry after the pandemic, and deliver more diversified and refined products and services to the public,” said Mr. Li Ning, Executive Chairman and Joint CEO of the Li-Ning Group in August 2021.
In athleisurewear: Maia Active
Maia Active, a Chinese designer sportswear brand for Asian women, was founded in 2016 by New York Parsons School of Design’s alumni Lisa Ou Yirong, who previously worked for J Crew, and Mia Wang Jiayin, who previously worked for Victoria’s Secret and Xiaohongshu.
Their collections are tailor-made for Asian women’s bodies and feature fashionable elements. The brand cooperated with Taiwan’s authoritative fabric research and development service organisation to develop special fabrics to achieve a light and “naked” comfortable feel like a “second skin”.
The brand opened its first flagship store on Tmall in April 2017. Three years later, Maia Active ranked Top 10 in the Sports category of domestic brands during shopping festivals on Tmall and Taobao.
With its slogan “Make every size beautiful”, the brand advocates body positivity. Maia Active invited consumers to be models in its ads generating buzz on social media.
In 2021, the company expected its revenue to reach 300 million yuan, representing a 166 percent growth rate year-on-year. Maia Active told financial media platform 36Kr it will have a total of 18 physical stores across eight cities in China by the end of 2021 and it anticipates that network to grow to 50 stores by the end of 2022.
In 2021, the brand also raised nearly 100 million yuan (US$15.7 million) in a series C round of financing, led by Belle International, one of China’s largest footwear retailers.
In Automobile: HongQi
Dubbed the Bentley of China, Hongqi is the luxury car brand of FAW (First Automobile Works) Group, one of China’s big four carmakers. Hongqi is also China’s oldest passenger car marque, having been founded in 1958. The name literally translates to “Red Flag” as Hongqi’s vehicles in the early days were used primarily to cart government officials around.
In January 2018, FAW announced its new brand strategy to build the new Hongqi into a new high-end brand that will also be China’s first global brand. Thus, following the deployment of a sales network and the launch of seven new models, Hongqi’s sales have rapidly increased to reach 200,000 units sold in China in 2020.
FAW Group’s premium car brand Hongqi announced it sold a total of 118,000 new vehicles during the first five months of 2021, representing a remarkable year-on-year growth of 116%. The brand expected to sell 400,000 vehicles throughout 2021.
The brand unveiled the ultra-luxury hypercar, Hongqi S9, at Auto Shanghai 2021 in April last year. Designed by car designer, Walter De Silva, the Hongqi S9 is a unique intersection of ultra-luxury, high-performance sports vehicles and new energy vehicles, which are among the fastest growing segments in China and international markets.
In 2021, the brand also announced that it has started exporting the China-made E-HS9 luxury SUV to Norway, marking the first step of its planned European expansion.
In Automobile: Nio
Headquartered in Shanghai, the smart electric car maker was founded in 2014 by William Li, a billionaire entrepreneur who made his fortune selling services to the auto industry.
In 2021, NIO delivered 91,429 vehicles, up 109.1 percent year-on-year and more than quadrupled from 2019. As of December 31, 2021, NIO’s vehicle deliveries amounted to 167,070 units in total.
In 2022, NIO will release the all-electric ET5, its second sedan that will rival Tesla’s Model 3. The ET5 will be available in September. Its launch follows that of Nio’s first and more expensive ET7 electric sedan, rivalling Tesla’s Model S, and where deliveries are scheduled to start in March. Nio is also expected to unveil another electric vehicle in 2022.
NIO’s second factory which is located in the NeoPark in Hefei, China will be put into operation from the third quarter of 2022. Worldwide, NIO will bring its products and comprehensive service experience to Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark.
In Fast Fashion: Urban Revivo
The fast-fashion brand was founded by Li Mingguang in 2006 in Guangzhou. The businessman visited one of Zara’s stores in Japan when the Spanish company still had no presence in China and decided to bring the same concept to his country.
The brand breaks through the traditional thinking of fast fashion and positions itself as a pioneer of affordable luxury. Urban Revivo is not only capable of doing avant-garde design, but also striking a perfect balance between quality and value. It has always devoted itself to creating a shopping experience characterized by comfort, luxury, innovation and smartness for its global customers.
After building a network of 200 stores in China, Urban Revivo started its international expansion in 2017, with a store opening in Singapore. In 2018, the brand expanded into the European market with a store opening in London’s Westfield shopping mall. The brand also has a presence in Thailand and the Middle East.
With design centers in London, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the brand delivers more than 20,000 new products every year, with new products coming in every week.
In 2020, Urban Revivo achieved over 5 billion RMB in sales, and it has over 300 offline stores worldwide.
In F&B: Yuanqi Senlin
Founded in 2016 by Tang Binsen, Yuanqi Senlin also known as Genki Forest is a Gen Z-focused, data-driven, and fast-growing Chinese beverage company with a leading position in the low-sugar, low-calorie categories. Since its establishment, the company has strived to provide a “global service” and adhered to the principle of placing “users first” by leveraging insights into user needs and launching a range of popular health drinks catering to client preferences with regards to sugar-free, fat-free, gluten-free, calorie-free and no-GMO beverages.
Thanks to its proprietary scientific research, its sugar-free sparkling water quickly became a flagship product. During the Singles Day Shopping Festival of 2020, the company surpassed the traditional international giants on Tmall and Jingdong.com and won the Champions in sales award in the soft drinks category. In 2020, sales volume reached nearly 3 billion yuan, showcasing the phenomenal rate of change seen across China’s beverage industry.
In April 2021, Genki Forest announced the success of its latest funding round, valuing the company at US$6 billion. In this funding round, Genki Forest’s long standing investor Sequoia China acted as lead investor with Warburg Pincus, L Catterton, Temasek, Gao Rong, Longhu and others participating. This new round of financing will serve four major purposes: carrying out overseas mergers and acquisitions with the aim of introducing new high-quality products to the Chinese market; building environmental-friendly factories and improving manufacturing capabilities; investing in research and development; and fostering Genki Forest’s status as a global company.
Genki Forest has currently entered more than 40 overseas markets, notably the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea. It has been officially certified by the Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB) and was granted the HCS Health Preferred label. Its health benefits are gradually being recognized by all overseas markets.
In Lingerie: Neiwai
The lingerie brand NEIWAI (pronounced NAY-WHY) established in 2012, focuses on liberating and empowering all women through beautifully designed, comfortable and functional clothing. NEIWAI encourages women to celebrate their bodies confidently in their most personal moments. Deeply committed to sustainability, NEIWAI collaborated with Wolford on a sustainable capsule collection in 2021.
In recent years, NEIWAI saw a stellar growth. In addition to its e-commerce channels, NEIWAI opened more than 150 brick and mortar shops across China. The brand has also set up a local operation team in the United States and launched an international website. In terms of products, NEIWAI has expanded into loungewear and athleisure.
Read Retail in Asia‘s interview with Neiwai’ Co-Founder here.
In Jewelry: Hefang
The jewelry brand was founded by Sun Hefang in 2012 in Shanghai. The designer graduated from the Jewelry Design Department of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London in 2009. In 2017, HEFANG was named ELLE Most Promising Accessory Designer of the Year.
According to Minnews, HEFANG Jewelry’s Tmall store has monthly sales of over 10 million yuan and has 1 million fans. The brand revealed that since the opening of the Tmall store in 2016, its sales have always maintained the first place in the category of designer jewelry brands on the Tmall platform.
The digital native brand opened its first physical store in Guangzhou K11 in 2018. Since then the brand has opened 25 specialty stores (direct management and joint operation of agents), and the shopping malls that have settled in include Beijing SKP, Shanghai Ganghui Plaza, Guangzhou K11, Shenzhen Vientiane World, Chengdu IFS, etc.
HEFANG Jewelry has teamed up with well-known domestic and foreign brands such as Maserati, SK-II, Haagen-Dazs, etc. for cross-industry cooperation.
In Menswear: Gentspace
The high-end menswear brand was founded in 2016 by Chen Wenhao whose family was in the menswear business. After studying in the US, Wenhao created the high-end menswear brand Gentspace which represents the gentleman’s lifestyle and features “contemporary classic” design.
Gentspace first flagship store opened in Shanghai in 2017, a shopping space that combines the brand’ garments and lifestyle products such as headphones, coffee table books and magazines on arts, photography and high-end personal care products like Marvis toothpaste, as well as stationeries by the Italian paper maker, Fabriano.
Gentspace collection is available in more than 20 stores across different cities in China.
In Outerwear: Bosideng
Founded in 1976 by tailor-turned entrepreneur Dekang GAO, BOSIDENG focuses on the development, design and production of down jackets. In the past 46 years, BOSIDENG has been blazing new trails in downs, fabrics, craftsmanship and layouts. The quality and warmth of its down jackets have earned a high reputation both domestically and abroad.
Last year Bosideng became No.1 globally in sales (both in sales amount and sales volume), according to Euromonitor International’s systematic research conducted from July to August 2021 on the competition situation and leading brands in the global down jacket market. This comes after the brand took the strategic decision to focus on down jackets (rather than four seasons) and strengthen branding in 2018.
In recent years, Bosideng collaborated with renowned designers, including former Ralph Lauren design director Tim Coppens and former Hermès brand art director Jean Paul Gaultier, as well as international IP such as Disney. Moreover, it debuted at global fashion shows such as New York, Milan and London Fashion Weeks and partnered with Chinese A-listers like Yang Mi and Xiao Zhan to further grow brand awareness.
The brand aims to enter the high-end market as indicated by its recent announcement to raise its prices and to release high-tech collections such as The Dengfeng 2.0 series.
The brand operates 4,000 stores across the world.
About the author
Samy Redjeb is currently Managing Director at Bluebell HK, Macau & Taiwan, Director of Owndays HK and Brunello Cucinelli Taiwan JVs.
Prior to his position as MD, he was Group Development Director at Bluebell since 2012 and his role was to profile and identify brands to set up distribution partnerships ranking from startups to mega brands in various categories in Asia.
He was instrumental in setting up new partnerships with brands such as Manolo Blahnik, Kusmi Tea, Daniel Wellington, Brunello Cucinelli, Owndays, and more. His expertise covers multi-channel distribution, branding, equity investment,leasing.