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Li Ning

Founder & Executive Chairman, Li Ning

The former Chinese gymnast has built a global sportswear empire challenging the likes of Adidas and Nike.


Li Ning is the founder and executive chairman of his eponymous athletic apparel and footwear brand, which he founded in 1990 with the goal of providing Chinese athletes with a national brand to wear at the Olympics. The label has undergone a renaissance since its runway shows at New York and Paris fashion weeks, quickly becoming a trend-led choice for younger generations and establishing itself as a competitor of Adidas and Nike.

Ning graduated with a BA in Law from the School of Law of Peking University, but made his name and first career as a world-class gymnast. He started training at the age of eight and went on to win 106 gold medals during his sporting career, earning the title “Prince of Gymnastics” early in his career. He won six medals at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the first Olympics in which the People's Republic of China participated. In 2008, Ning also lit the torch at the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

He founded his eponymous label in 1990. In recent years, the brand struggled with management missteps and intensifying competition, but Ning is leading the brand in a turnaround. The company has been working with brand consultant Liad Krispin, a former long-time marketing guru at Adidas, since late 2017. Li Ning also established a premium range in 2017, for which it combines Western sportswear silhouettes and innovative fabrics with traditional details and classic shapes, thereby celebrating Chinese heritage while also appealing to an international customer, capitalising on the nostalgia trend popular with Gen-Z consumers. The company reported gross profit increase of 21 percent and annual revenue of over $1.5 billion in 2018. 

After retiring from his athletic career in 1989, Ning continues his affiliation with the sporting world. Li Ning supports China’s gold medal-winning teams in diving, shooting, table tennis and badminton. Ning is also chairman, chief executive and executive director of Viva China Holdings Limited, an investment holding company.

Vital Statistics

10 March 1963


Member since

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What is The BoF 500?

The people shaping the global fashion industry, curated by the editors of The Business of Fashion, based on nominations and on-the-ground intelligence from around the world.