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Warrior: The Story of China’s First Hip Sneaker

During the 1970s, Warrior (回力) brand sneakers were the hottest shoes in China — its bright, clean design...

Sean Leow
Sean Leow on June 13, 2008.

During the 1970s, Warrior (回力) brand sneakers were the hottest shoes in China — its bright, clean design a sharp contrast to the drab homogeneity of Communist China. Continuing into the 1980s, the shoe remained a status symbol for Chinese teenagers who were well-off enough to don a pair of famous Warriors.

But as China opened up economically, so did the marketplace for sneaker brands. While the 50 year-old Warrior name was still well-known in China, it was no longer well-known as one of the premier Chinese brands. Instead, Warrior shoes became the shoe of the working class — worn by poor construction workers, elderly women and rural citizens looking for a pair of cheap, durable shoes, not an expensive brand name (and mark-up).

Fascinated by this story, a graphic design student from China recently released a photography book which features people wearing Warriors in various areas of China. Each copy of “Book of Warriors” comes with a pair of Warriors. The author, Shumeng Ye, hopes to use the Warrior brand “to tell the story behind the shoes and show a different side of China. Not the industrial and economical power, but the daily life of a country with its own distinctive sneaker culture.”

Interestingly, Warrior-type shoes are making a comeback among the (ironically) hip set, who covet the relative obscurity of the Warrior in Western culture. In Europe, a similar shoe retails for EU 40-50, which is a significant markup over the China price (EU 2-3).

Below are a couple of Shumeng’s Warrior pictures along with the cool retro packaging that some Warrior shoes come in.

Book of Warriors

Warrior Shoes

Thinking...