Portland’s Other Powerhouse, Ziba Design, Helping Take China’s Top Sports Brand To The Next Level

I was intrigued by a four paragraph story in The Oregonian today. Here it is, in part:

Li Ning Co., China’s largest footwear and apparel maker, plans to open a Portland store in January that will be its first outlet outside Asia.
Li Ning already has a research and development center in the Pearl District.

Really? That’s pretty big news to hide in a tiny little story (The Oregonian has covered pieces of the story previously).
Portland, as you may know is something of a footwear and sportswear hot spot. Nike, Adidas America, Columbia Sportswear, Pendleton Woolen Mills, Keen, Nau, Jantzen and Lucy Activewear all call Portland home. So, opening a store here is a pretty in-your-face move for Li Ning. One that’s clearly orchestrated by Portland-based Ziba Design.
According to Fast Company contributing writer Aric Chen, Ziba is helping reshape everything from the company’s product line, visual identity and store interiors–the company has 6300 stores in China now and plans to add another 3000 in the next four years.

Ziba is also helping Li Ning learn to think of itself as a global company, which is no small thing for an operation that’s been almost exclusively focused on the domestic market. “Defining the problem is more important than solving the problem,” says Ziba founder Sohrab Vossoughi. And for Li Ning, “The problem, and goal, was to create a world-class design competency.”

Naturally, this kind of Chinese-American teamwork is new, for capitalist China is new. I imagine there will be some who resist Li Ning’s advances on these shores, but personally, I think it’s incredibly good news. Portland, like all West Coast cities already has a well established link to the Far East and that link, when properly cared for, means trade and lots of it.
Portland and Oregon are both suffering from immense budgetary woes. There’s no question that the city and the state need outside investment and Ziba and Li Ning are clearly getting it done. It seems to me, their success could breed more like ventures.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.