The sneaker market in China
On the 1st April 2019, a CONVERSE store in Jining, Shandong province, released an announcement and has triggered lots of criticisms among Chinese consumers. In the announcement, the retailer published the put-on-sale date as well as the requirements for purchasing the CONVERSE Chuck 70 High Top: consumers need to wait in line and who get to buy the shoes will be decided by a lottery-drawing. In addition, shoppers were required to bring a personal ID and wear a complete CONVERSE outfit including shoes and clothes. “Don’t wear anything from other sports brands. Please respect the brand, thank you!” said the announcement.
It is not unusual for brands to use the lottery-drawing method to decide who can purchase a certain product; It is also common for stores to ask consumers bringing their IDs and wearing outfits from its own brand. The reasoning is to prevent the speculating and ensure that the products get to actual enthusiasts, instead of scalpers. So why is CONVERSE in China receiving such a discontent from consumers? The most mentioned reason is that the CONVERSE CHUCK 70 High Top is neither a limited nor collaboration edition; It is not even a unique color or design but solely a standard pair of black sneakers. Many are accusing CONVERSE of being “cocky” and treating Chinese consumers like fools.
WARNING OF RELEASE! ! !
5th April CONVERSE Chuck 70 High Top Black Release Announcement!!!
IMPORTANT! ! !
- Make sure the registration information is in agreement with your ID.
- Comply with the release time, no entering the store early.
- Please wear a complete CONVERSE outfit (both shoes AND clothes), do NOT wear anything from other sports brands (Please respect the brand, thank you~).
- Comply with all rules for the release, if there is any inappropriate behavior during the release, the event will be canceled.
- For further information, please consult the store staff. All rights reserved.
Unfortunately, this store announcement is not an exceptional case. According to our observations, all colors of this collection are currently sold out both on CONVERSE official Chinese online store and on Tmall. On the contrary, the same pair of sneakers are available on US and European CONVERSE official online stores. As a result, Chinese consumers are criticizing the brand of encouraging making ordinary products inaccessible for regular consumers. Some netizens even believe that it is a sales strategy of CONVERSE in China to make its product more exclusive and desirable.
Shortly after, CONVERSE released a public letter on Weibo, which denied taking part in any kind of sensationalizing and the company has not encouraged any behavior as such. The brand also explained that the shortage of supply was not planned by CONVERSE; the produced and supplied amount is regulated by the related department based on the sales data from the year before. In the public letter, CONVERSE also claimed that they had already communicated with the authorized retailer and the retailer concerned then canceled all kinds of queuing or drawing-lots behaviors for not special editions. CONVERSE in China had also reported the shortage to headquarters so that the company could increase the producing amount to meet China’s market demand gradually.
The sneaker market news in China: consumers are turning to local Chinese sneaker brands like Huili and Feiyue
In the comment section of a WeChat post regarding the recent CONVERSE controversy, Chinese local sneaker brand Feiyue(飞跃, means flying forward in Chinese) has been mentioned frequently. They claimed that Feiyue shoes are much more comfortable and have a much better price.
What is Feiyue and why is it so popular?
Feiyue – originated from Shanghai in the 1920s – is well known for its flexibility and comfort. Back then, it was once loved by the whole country, from the working class to politicians, from football players to Shaolin monks. Its light canvas and soft cushioning make Feiyue perfect as martial art shoes. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, all martial arts performers in the opening ceremony wore Feiyue.
However, with the Chinese economy opening up after the 80s, overseas shoe brands in the Chinese market have been taking the dominant position. The Feiyue sneakers once disappeared in the sight of Chinese mass consumers. Interestingly, Chinese millennials are turning back to this local Chinese brand in recent years for its humble prices and good quality. At the same time, the domestic brand also maintains an authentic retro flair, which has caught many fashionable young people’s attention.
Ironically, it was a French who got Feiyue back in vogue, who fell in love with the rich history and Chinese martial characteristic behind the shoes. So, he decided to bring these shoes to French. In 2006, Patrice Bastian registered the trademark of the brand in Europe and established the Feiyue Shoes Holding. He kept the original Chinese vintage charm and modified the material and design to better suits the urban lifestyle. The brand’s popularity reached a peak when Hollywood star Orlando Bloom was spotted wearing a pair of classic Feiyue shoes in 2008. In 2010 alone, Mr. Bastian’s company sold a million Feiyue sneakers pairs overseas, before selling the brand in 2014 to BBC International LLC, a major footwear design and production company that works with marquee brands such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Teva, Cole Haan and Disney.
However, the Chinese Feiyue is not happy about that. They have been accusing Bastian of rubbering the brand. “No one in China knew about commodity intellectual property rights at the time, and it wasn’t until 2007-08 that we found out the French had registered the trademark,” Said Liu, manager of Shanghai Da Fu Rubber Co., which is considered to be the original Feiyue manufacturer. Till now, Chinese Feiyue and French Feiyue co-exist. While Chinese Feiyue still stays quite humble: a pair of sneakers costs around 10US$ to 20US$, the price of Feiyue overseas is similar to CONVERSE sneakers.
Chinese sneaker brand Huili was also revived
After Feiyue, another Chinese shoe brand Huili (回力, known as “Warrior” in English) has been revived. The brand was established in Shanghai in the 1930s and was once the shoe of the working class. Just like Feiyue, Huili also has its fanbase overseas, although the price there for these sneakers are much higher than in China. After being discovered by foreign trendsetters, these local Chinese brands have, once again, gained huge popularity among Chinese young fashion chasers. Insiders suggest “that it’s because foreigners are excellent at branding and product packaging, and as a very small minority gets into a certain brand that has gradually become rare and hard-to-find, it becomes popular among young people.”
Challenges for international brands on the sneaker market in China
- With the Chinese consumers’ shopping concept getting more mature, they continuously put more value on how brands treat them. They now have access to global trends and are very aware of other markets. Chinese consumers often compare the prices of a certain product on different markets and are very sensitive about whether they are being treated “fairly” and “respectfully.”
- Nowadays, international brands on the Chinese market not only have to compete with other foreign brands but also emerging domestic brands, which often have a more attractive price and a better understanding of Chinese consumers.
- More and more Chinese millennials are adoring traditional Chinese brands with a long history. By purchasing from these brands, they acquire both the retro charm and the good consciousness of supporting Chinese domestic companies.
Author: Chencen Zhu
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