Far East Vibes

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The curious allure of the foreign shoe brand

By Jannelle Moore

Basketball’s popularity in Asia has been well documented for years, but the traces of the game’s impact on the continent remains undeniably fascinating.
I marvel at how the culture of basketball has permeated the Philippines and China respectively. The impact that the game has on these particular countries really hit me when NBA players promote the latest version of their ‘kicks in 7 countries in 7 day tours. The throngs of young men and women packing malls, gyms and the streets just to get a glimpse of someone like Kobe, like Steph, like KD and LeBron really solidifies the impact that basketball has in the East and why it’s the second most popular sport in the world behind only soccer.

The reason why these guys tour Asia in the offseason is obvious but I wonder about the players who sign with Asian shoe companies and the impact of the brands. I wonder if the players are signing only to capitalize on the insane popularity of the league across the continent. Or could it be the desire to defy tradition and find their own style? As for shoe companies like Anta and Li-Ning, could their niche in the states grow? In my opinion there are no simple answers to these questions but as someone who loves sneakers, the speculation is worth it.

Profit x Individually

Let’s be honest here. Nike has dominated the basketball scene for over 30 years and has no significant signs of falling off anytime soon. The swoosh is the standard, and it seems as if they have rosters upon rosters of clients. The draw here is the chance to stand out while getting ‘coins overseas. Four years ago, Dwayne Wade left Jordan for Li Ning-and for the first time, a Chinese brand signed a NBA superstar who was still within a reasonable portion of his prime. In Li Ning, Wade found an opportunity where he could further express himself as Chief Brand Officer of his line and having an active role in designing his shoe plus a few extra million and the opportunity to extend his brand in China.

Klay Thompson is a more recent example of a NBA star in his prime to sign with a Chinese shoe brand. The Warriors marksman left Nike and signed with Anta 2 years ago and at the time the deal paid him over $3 million annually after base comp, bonuses and royalties. The deal was considered to be above market value at the time since it was before the Dubs’ consecutive tripes to the Finals and Klay’s All Star appearances. Now there are reports of a multi-year renegotiation and extension that is worth $9 million per year if all performance incentive bonuses and sales are met. Yeah I know, it’s easy to clown Anta and Li Ning but who can argue with netting extra millions, the opportunity of increasing your profile in the fastest growing economy in the world, and creative control? You can knock the shoes all day, everyday and twice on Sunday but you can’t really knock the hustle.

Tech Edge

One aspect that can go overlooked is the shoe’s techs and features. It could be that the players may be open to give the Antas and Li Nings of the world a shot because they value comfort and performance over style. How about the belief that the brands could make a technically sound shoe that could be more comfortable than Nike, Addias, etc. It may not be as likely as the chance to switch it up but tech is worth considering.

Possible Impact?

I will keep it 100 and say that the Asian kicks look like pure clearance rack chic. Right now, they couldn’t compete at the Dollar Tree. However, they can make some positive gains. To me, it is like they are trying to hard to appeal to Americans. I think the brand would be better off by infusing their style and culture in the shoe. Under Armor was smart in creating two Asian influenced colorways for the Curry 2.5 for that market. Anta and others can do the same but for American consumers. Think about it-we love different cultures to the point of appropriation (that’s a post for another time and another place). We see other cultures as unique especially when it comes to fashion. So why not put more of their culture on the shoe? Play with different textures, material and colors for the uppers, the heels and the vamp? I’m not sure about their apparel, but they can use the same principles for that. If they decide to experiment more instead of trying too hard to appeal to the American consumer with assumptions of what they like in a basketball shoe, they can probably come out with some hot shoes.

What is your take? Be sure and comment below.

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