Xinjiang cotton spawns new controversy with 30-fold jump in online prices of Li Ning, Anta footwear as market crackdown looms

Zhang Shidong
·3-min read

The controversy over Xinjiang-produced cotton has fired the imagination of many Chinese punters, as nationalistic buying fervour sends some home-grown footwear brands to uncharted speculative heights.

Prices for some shoes produced by Li Ning and Anta Sports surged by at least eight-fold on an obscure e-commerce platform called Dewu. The phenomenon follows a surge in the share prices of Chinese apparel makers as Chinese consumers snubbed foreign brands in what the US called a state-led boycott.

A Li Ning pair named after former NBA basketball star Dwyane Wade sold for as much as 48,889 yuan (US$7,459) on Dewu, or 33 times its recommended retail price. A pair of Anta shoes, with a special imprint of Japanese cartoon character Doraemon, fetched 3,999 yuan versus its reference price of 499 yuan.

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The frenzy for local sportswear products highlights how speculators have taken advantage of a political event to profit from a surge in nationalism. Buyers switched to local brands in a pushback against Swedish group H&M, as an old statement resurfaced over cotton allegedly produced with Uygur forced labour in Xinjiang.

Ex-Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade is doused with water from his teammates after playing his last NBA game against the Brooklyn Nets in April 2019: Photo: USA Today
Ex-Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade is doused with water from his teammates after playing his last NBA game against the Brooklyn Nets in April 2019: Photo: USA Today

“Those speculating on shoes cannot cross the bottom line and abandon ethics, simply for the sake of making some windfalls,” a commentator wrote in an article run on People.com on Monday.

Shares of Li Ning, Anta Sports Products and Xtep International have all risen in Hong Kong over the past week, as H&M’s online stores vanished from Tmall and JD.com’s platforms and other shopping apps, while some landlords terminated leases of its bricks-and-mortar shops.

Li Ning and Anta have surged at least 139 per cent over the past year and the stock of Xtep has risen 85 per cent in the span. The market cap of Anta, the biggest among China’s listed sportswear makers at HK$353.1 billion (US$45.4 billion), is about a fifth of that of Nike, the world’s most valuable counterpart.

Anta, Li Ning shares surge as Chinese consumers back domestic brands in Xinjiang cotton row

While the reasons may be different, the latest craze mirrors 2019’s surge in prices of certain limited-edition shoes produced by foreign brands like Adidas. Like previous episodes of excessive speculation, an official crackdown may not be too far behind.

The surge in Li Ning and Anta’s shoe prices has stoked criticism from powerful China’s state-run media. The online version of the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece newspaper owned by the Communist Party, called for a crackdown, saying that shoes are for wearing and not for speculating on, evoking President Xi Jinping’s mantra for housing.

“Speculation on shoes” will only deter domestic buyers, undercut the competition of home-grown manufacturers and cripple their brand upgrade, Xinhua news agency said in an editorial on Monday. Brand owners should take action to protect their image, and regulatory departments should strengthen oversight and maintain an orderly market for home-made products, it added.

President Xi Jinping, seen in an Anta-made parka during an inspection of the National Ski Jumping Center in Hebei province in January. The stock jumped on the report. Photo: Xinhua.
President Xi Jinping, seen in an Anta-made parka during an inspection of the National Ski Jumping Center in Hebei province in January. The stock jumped on the report. Photo: Xinhua.

The Li Ning and Anta sports shoes on the Dewu platform found very few buyers at the prices quoted by sellers and the merchandise has already been taken off the online shelf because of excessive price swings, Dewu said in a statement on Tuesday in response to the controversy.

The platform has also identified 20 other types of sports shoes up for sale as having big-price movements and removed them from online shops, it added. Three sellers have been banned from transactions for price manipulation.

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