Rebooting the brand

Source:Global Times Published: 2011-4-20 4:44:00

A pair of sneakers co-designed by Feiyue and France-based Celine. Photo: CFP

By Chen Yang

On a recent trip to Paris, Shanghai native Ding Ling was surprised to find a series of Feiyue-brand sneakers on sale in Galeries Lafayette, a premium French department store chain.

"Feiyue, literally meaning Flying Forward, is a time-honored sneaker brand from Shanghai, but you hardly ever see it in China's mainstream shopping centers now," Ding said.

Ding, who is 29 and lives in Germany, remembers wearing a pair of Feiyue canvas shoes for physical education classes at his primary school. "We didn't have many choices in that era and Feiyue was the most popular footwear brand," he said. "After foreign brands such as Adidas, Nike and Converse came to China, the Feiyue brand was gradually forgotten."

To his surprise, Feiyue sneakers are now sold for 50 to 80 euros ($72-$115) per pair in France, 10 times their retail price in China. Ding also found the Chinese shoes were popular among young people in Paris, and some classic styles are nearly the same as what he wore two decades ago.

He shared his findings on his Sina weibo (microblog), and his post was echoed by many other overseas Chinese students and tourists, who also posted their photos of Feiyue shoes at stores in London and New York. It seems the 90-year-old Chinese brand has become a must-have fashion item in the West.

French twist

It was not a Chinese company that brought Feiyue to the world. The shoes sold outside China are made by Feiyue Shoes Holding, a company established in France in 2006.

Co-founder Nicolas Seguy has said that they purchased the rights to use the Feiyue brand in 2005. Their plan was to make the brand more fashion-conscious focus, while maintaining its vintage Chinese charm.

Seguy said they re-worked the entire production process, changing all the materials including the canvas, rubber, eyelets and lining, to make the shoes more durable and better for urban living.


The brand's popularity reached a peak when Hollywood star Orlando Bloom was spotted wearing a pair of classic Feiyue shoes in 2008. Now the shoes feature in fashion magazines, and the company has boosted its appeal by working with hip celebrities, like French graffiti artist André Saraiva.

The company has gained footholds in the US and Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Last year it sold around 1 million pairs of shoes outside China, mainly in the European market, according to Singapore-based Lianhe Zaobao.

Harder at home

Seguy has promoted Feiyue as the first brand with Chinese origins to break through in the Western fashion industry. But the French company has kept a low profile in China, and refuses to accept interviews from the Chinese media.

"The French Feiyue brand will never enter the Chinese market," said Liu Qinglong, manager of Shanghai Shenglong Shoes Co, an authorized manufacturer and distributor of the original Feiyue brand. "If they come to China, we will consider suing them on the grounds of intellectual property rights infringement."
Liu attributes Feiyue's overseas commercial success to its Chinese culture and history. "French people think the boost in sales is down to their branding success, but I think foreign customers like the brand because it has a long history in China and is connected with Shaolin martial arts," he said.

Liu also said that Feiyue's original brand owner, Shanghai Dafu Rubber Co, hasn't shared the profits from the overseas sales boom. "These Frenchmen used to order shoes from our company and resell them abroad," said Liu. "But after they established the French Feiyue brand in 2006, they assigned other factories to do the manufacturing for them."

Shanghai Dafu Rubber Co went bankrupt in 2009, and the Feiyue brand ownership now belongs to its parent company, Double Coin Holdings, a Shanghai-based manufacturer and distributor of tires, according to Liu. But the tire company does not intend to get back into the shoe business, owing to its low profit margins.

"For example, the cost of a classic pair of Feiyue shoes is around 18 yuan ($2.8) and we sell it for 35 yuan ($5.4) in stores," said Liu. "Currently our most expensive shoes sell for around 100 yuan ($15.3), and we plan to release more higher-end shoes in the autumn, priced around 200-300 yuan ($30.6-$45.9), in order to boost our profits."

Making a comeback

Liu still views his main customers as martial arts practitioners in China. But there are some who hope to market the original Feiyue brand to a broader consumer group.

Tian Bo, a Shanghai native, is one of them. He opened Culture Matters – a store selling classic Chinese shoes including Feiyue, Warrior and Double Star – in Shanghai in 2006.


"I love these heritage brands and believe they have the potential to be revived one day," he said. "But I'm disappointed with their traditional sales channels so I decided to do it my own way."

Tian tried to boost his vintage shoes business among expatriates first. Then he used social network websites such as and Sina weibo to approach more young Chinese people. "At first our customers were mainly expats living in Shanghai and overseas tourists, but now 60-70 percent of our customers are Chinese, such as fashion-conscious young people and white-collar workers who are bored with mainstream brands," he said.

As a large distributor for original Feiyue shoes, Tian also collects feedback from customers and makes suggestions about shoe design to manufacturers. Now Tian owns three stores in Shanghai, with monthly sales revenue of around 50,000 yuan ($7,655) per store, and he is considering expanding to more cities.
"I think the French Feiyue and the Chinese Feiyue will co-exist but will target different markets for a long time," he said. "What we want to do is to gain more share of the domestic market, and make the brand acceptable to more Chinese customers."

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