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China’s sneaker market thrives as middle class grows and consumer preferences evolve

China’s sneaker market has experienced significant growth and transformation over the years. Sneakers have become a popular fashion trend and status symbol among Chinese consumers, particularly the younger generation. This market holds great potential due to the increasing influence of international sports fashion and the growing focus on footwear comfort among the middle class.

China’s sneaker market revenue to surpass US$15 billion by 2023

According to Statista, the sneaker market in China is expected to generate US$15.84 billion in revenue by 2023, with an estimated revenue of US$10.85 per capita. China’s sizable population has contributed to the profitability of the sneaker market, which has shown consistent growth over the years. Despite experiencing a negative growth in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, the sneaker market has demonstrated an overall upward trend. The Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for the period 2023-2028 is expected to be 7.07% per year, indicating sustained expansion. It is projected that the sneaker segment will sell over 300 million pairs by 2028, becoming a large and lucrative market in terms of both total and per capita shoes sold.

China's sneaker market from 2018 to 2028E
Source: Statista, designed by Daxue Consulting, Revenue of the sneaker market in China from 2018 to 2028E

The growing middle class unlocks the potential of the sneaker market in China

The country’s booming middle class and increasing disposable income have contributed to the growth of the sneaker market. The middle class is increasingly brand conscious and willing to pay high prices for brands that are internationally recognized. Sneakers, with their casual-sporty style, have emerged as a popular fashion trend among this group.

A 2020 report on China’s emerging middle class revealed that this demographic has a clear preference for adopting healthier consumption patterns. Moreover, the report highlighted the fact that China’s middle class exhibits a strong inclination towards seeking out high-quality products and embracing an optimistic lifestyle. Driven by a desire for a healthy and comfortable lifestyle, Chinese consumers increasingly prioritize comfortable sports and fitness shoes.

Dewu: revolutionizing the sneaker market and engaging with young Chinese consumers

According to iiMedia, 60.6% of the consumers in China in 2021 prefer purchasing sports products online. In addition to traditional e-commerce platform like and Taobao, there is a new rising platform that has gained popularity in the sneaker market, especially among the young generation.

Dewu, a B2C and C2C e-commerce platform, differentiated itself through its “authenticate first, ship later” shopping process and diverse product selection, making it a sought-after e-commerce platform. Moreover, Poizon (the English name of the app) has successfully cultivated a vibrant lifestyle community that resonates with the younger generation. Within the app, users can engage with one another, discuss their purchases, and share their impressions. The platform boasts an active community of sneaker enthusiasts who extensively exchange information about the latest releases. One of the most popular sneakers on Dewu is Nike Dunk Low, which has been purchased more than 540 thousand times on the platform. Many users have uploaded over a thousand videos and photos wearing these popular shoes.

Nike Dunk Low on Dewu
Source: Dewu, Nike Dunk Low on Dewu

International and domestic brands making waves in China’s sneaker industry – Nike ‘s thriving journey

International sportswear brands like Nike, Adidas, and New Balance, as well as domestic brands like Li Ning and Anta, are prominent players in China’s sneaker market. Nike, in particular, has achieved tremendous success in the country. As sneakers and streetwear styles from the U.S gained popularity in the country, established American brands like Nike enjoyed a strong global reputation for their quality, innovation, and stylish designs.

Nike’s growth in China has been remarkable. After a slowdown in the growth of the sales market in North America by 2003, Nike shifted its focus outside the U.S. To localize the brand in China, Nike actively collaborated with Chinese sports stars and emphasized research and development, particularly for products like AirMax and other professional air-cushioned shoes.

Meanwhile, Chinese sports shoe brands like Huili faced challenges in keeping up with the expansion of global brands and recognized the importance of transforming and modernizing their operations.

Huili’s transformation and success: learning from international brands

In the 1990s and early 21st century, Huili faced significant challenges. To overcome these obstacles, Huili adopted strategies from international brands like Nike and Adidas to effectively manage its own brand. In 2005, Huili’s manufacturer regained the rights to operate overseas and made substantial improvements to their sneakers, paving the way for a successful entry into foreign markets.

The Beijing Olympics in 2008 presented a golden opportunity for Huili. Through collaborations with foreign celebrities during the games, Huili skillfully showcased its brand and gained global recognition. Since then, Huili has experienced a resurgence in popularity, re-emerging as a prominent Chinese sneaker brand with a significant market presence. Over the years, Huili’s market share has gradually increased.

How “Guochao” promoted the rise of local sneaker brands

Guochao refers to the growing consumer preference for Chinese brands, designs, and culture, embracing traditional elements and invoking national pride. Li Ning, the founder of a prominent Chinese brand, gained international recognition during the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he participated in the torch relay wearing his brand’s clothing. This association with national pride has played a crucial role in Li Ning’s success. With the emergence of Guochao, Li Ning effectively leveraged its “Made-in-China” identity to promote its products, striking a chord with consumers by combining patriotism with supporting domestic brands. The recent “Xinjiang cotton” scandal further solidified this trend, leading to explosive growth in sales for Chinese brands like Li Ning and Anta, as more consumers chose to support local brands.

Li Ning lit the Olympic torch
Source: New York Times, Li Ning lit the torch of the Olympic Games in 2008

Exploring China’s promising sports shoes market

  • China’s sports shoes market has huge market potential and good development prospects.
  • The emerging middle class has brought a renewed vitality into China’s sneaker market, altering the consumption structure of Chinese sports brands and giving rise to new trends in consumer behavior.
  • Dewu, a popular B2C and C2C e-commerce platform in China, has gained traction among young consumers by offering a wide range of sneakers, including the highly sought-after Nike Dunk Low, and fostering an active community where enthusiasts can connect, share their purchases, and exchange information about the latest sneaker releases.
  • International sportswear brands such as Nike, Adidas, and New Balance, along with domestic brands like Li Ning and Anta, are prominent players in China’s sneaker market. Nike’s success in China can be attributed to its localization efforts, collaborations with Chinese sports stars, and emphasis on research and development.
  • Nevertheless, the rise of “Guochao” and the preference for Chinese brands have further boosted the growth of local sneaker brands like Li Ning and Anta.

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