China’s fashion nationalism: from Li-Ning’s red-yellow sportswear to displays of Chinese characters, nation wears pride on its sleeves

It’s hard to escape the resurgent nationalism emanating from China in 2018. A president consolidating power, an economic resurgence and a central place on the geopolitical stage are all reasons for Chinese people to take pride in their country. This renewed sentiment of national pride crosses over into many different arenas, including fashion.

At the highest-profile Chinese fashion event of 2018 thus far, the Tmall-sponsored “China Day” shows of the most recent edition of New York Fashion Week, held in conjunction with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, this message was unmistakable.

It was emblazoned all over the collection of athletic wear brand Li-Ning, founded in Beijing in 1989 by the Chinese Olympic gymnast of the same name. Models marched down the catwalk in China’s national colours of red and yellow, with simplified characters reading “Li Ning” and “China” across the front of T-shirts and sweatshirts and the back of jackets.

After years in the wilderness, losing ground to international sportswear brands such as Nike and Adidas, it seems Li-Ning has decided to fight the battle for the hearts and yuan of Chinese fashion consumers by tapping into an overtly home-grown, nationalistic message.

“I think the basic reason is because the economic situation has grown really fast, it makes people more confident in China, not just the economy, but also the political situation in the world,” explains Angel Chen, a young designer who has been making waves with her eponymous brand, with shows in Milan and an increasing list of stockists in China and abroad.

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