The rise of Chinese athleisure wear: Junyi raises millions to take on the world

Business & Technology

Junyi, a Chinese cross-border sports retailer, recently bagged over $15 million in a funding round. Its subsidiary, Baleaf, is an athleisure company with zero indicators that it is a Chinese brand.

athleisure in china illustration
Illustration for The China Project by Derek Zheng

As the Winter Olympics draws near, sports are trending in China’s capital markets.

Junyi, a cross-border sports retailer, recently completed a 100 million yuan ($15.7 million) Series A financing round, led by CICC Capital and Blue Lake Capital.

  • Founded in 2014, Junyi sells products in mainly five categories: yoga, running, outdoor wear, swimming, and cycling. It sells through Amazon and other mainstream ecommerce platforms and distributes to North America, Europe, Japan, South Korea, and elsewhere.
  • It owns the athleisure brand Baleaf, a company whose website looks like that of any other Western apparel store — with zero indicators that it is a Chinese brand.
  • According to the founder, Xú Mùxuān 徐慕瑄, Junyi is aiming to make affordable athleisure wear that combines performance and durability with comfort and fashion.

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The context: ​​The government has encouraged more sports awareness in recent years amid rising child obesity rates, deteriorating mental health, and a perceived crisis in masculinity. Meanwhile, urban consumers are becoming more aware of the health benefits to physical exercise.

  • In 2019, the State Council outlined a plan to build China into a “leading sports nation,” setting a goal to have “people who exercise” account for over 45% of the population by 2035. In 2019, 169,000 sports venues were constructed across China, according to a survey by the General Administration of Sports.
  • Xu told the tech blog 36kr that 2022 presents a “big test year” for China-made companies to establish their brand globally.
  • Based in Fujian — the home of first-generation Chinese sports brands like Anta and Qiaodan — Junyi has a team of over 150 people, many of whom are young millennials from Chinese internet companies and the traditional apparel industry.

The takeaway: Chinese culture has long prized academic performance over physical fitness, but things are changing rapidly. Physical education was a central pillar of Beijing’s education reforms last year, with some schools now prioritizing gym classes even more than English classes. The future for athleisure wear looks bright.