BEIJING • When Chinese President Xi Jinping and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto met with athletes from the two nations at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki in April, Mr Xi brought a gift for Mr Niinisto and his wife Jenni Haukio - a piece of sportswear bearing the Chinese athletes' autographs.
The sportswear, produced by Anta Sports Products, was made in Jinjiang, which is administered by Quanzhou, a city in the eastern province of Fujian.
The market capitalisation of the company, which went public in 1997, recently exceeded HK$70 billion (S$12 billion), nearly six times its initial market value.
Anta is one of several sportswear companies in China that are eyeing a bigger share of the growing sportswear market.
Mr Ding Shizhong, Anta's chairman and chief executive officer, said the company has set two development goals to be realised by 2020: selling 100 million pairs of shoes and 130 million items of clothing, and expanding the number of stores it operates to 11,000.
Last year, Anta established a joint venture with Descente, a Japanese company that makes winter sports gear, with a plan to open 10 stores in China to promote high-end outdoor sports clothing and accessories.
Jinjiang is the world's largest production base for sneakers, with 404 large-scale enterprises producing one billion pairs a year. As a result of rising labour costs, shoemakers in Jinjiang have been scrambling to grab the high-end market.
To promote their brands internationally, large footwear companies in the city, including Anta and 361 Degrees, have signed NBA stars such as Kevin Garnett and Klay Thompson.
The transformation from low- price manufacturer to premium brand is not easy. In addition to increased costs for labour and raw materials, the end of last year saw the exported goods price index for footwear products fall by 10 per cent from 2015.
Mr Cai Wenqing, head of the Jinjiang bureau of commerce, said many companies adopted similar strategies - investing larger sums in research and development - to insulate themselves from the impact of rising costs.
"Transformation takes time, but with this active response we will be on the right track soon," he said.
Last year, Quanzhou was listed as a pilot city for the Made in China 2025 programme, a 10-year plan unveiled by the State Council in 2015.
It aims to transform the country from a manufacturing giant into a global manufacturing power.
In response, the city launched the Made in Quanzhou 2025 initiative, under which traditional industries are being upgraded to technology-based businesses.
The moves have cut the labour force by 30 per cent and lowered costs by 50 per cent. In addition, a host of imported equipment has been replaced with Chinese-made machinery, shortening production times by as much as 40 per cent.
"There's still plenty of room for development," said Mr Chen Jianxing, deputy director of the city's science and technology bureau, adding that private enterprises face many challenges in common, such as small scales of operation, allied to a lack of research investment and high-calibre personnel.
To overcome these difficulties, the municipal government has invited experts from scientific institutions nationwide to study the problems and formulate solutions in accordance with local conditions.
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK