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Sportswear Maker Li-Ning to Go International
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Chinese sportswear giant Li-Ning hopes to make inroads into international markets by 2008 when Beijing stages the Olympic Games, according to a top company executive.

Li-Ning hopes to raise its international sales from the current 1.3 percent of total turnover to 20 percent by 2018, said company spokesman Zhang Xiaoyan.

"To become one of the world's top-five sporting goods companies, Li-Ning must focus on European and American markets," he said.

Li-Ning is currently one of the top-three sporting goods firms in China, along with US-based Nike and Germany-based Adidas.

"Li-Ning will blend oriental culture into its products to sell better on international markets," he said.

Zhang said an increasing number of international sportswear companies have begun to develop products with Asian elements.

"But as an oriental company Li-Ning is the best carrier of that culture," he said. "Beijing's Olympic Games will be full of oriental elements and so it will be the best time for us to make progress."

He said every sportswear company will use the Olympic games as an opportunity and Li-Ning will be no different.

"Although it is not an official sponsor, Li-Ning has sponsored four Chinese national teams and the Spanish national basketball team," said Zhang.

To carry out the oriental strategy more effectively, Li-Ning has employed a design team that consists of both Chinese and foreigners.

Li-Ning has a footwear designer who designed soccer shoes for Brazilian soccer striker Ronaldo.

"It is better to have foreign designers on the team," Zhang said. "We need to present oriental culture in an international manner."

For example, he cited the Hollywood version of Mulan, a cartoon based on an ancient Chinese story that was well received in the United States.

But Zhang did not think it would have received such warm reception if the traditional version of Mulan had not been adapted.

He said Li-Ning's current research and development (R&D) investment was not strong enough compared to foreign companies.

"Currently, R&D investment accounts for around 3 percent of turnover," he said. "But that will increase gradually in the future."

According to the firm's 2005 annual report, Li-Ning reported a turnover of 2.45 billion yuan (US$306.3 million), an increase of 30.1 percent over the previous year.

By the end of 2005, Li-Ning had 3,373 shops, including franchises, in China. This number is expected to exceed 5,000 by 2008, according to Zhang.

(China Daily May 26, 2006)

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