Vans contest entry pull sparks outrage from protesters in Hong Kong

Oct 8, 2019
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Vans has come under fire in Hong Kong and is facing the threat of a boycott as anti-government protests in the territory continue to flare.

The controversial design, which has since been removed from the Custom Culture contest. - Vans

The backlash against the skateboarding lifestyle brand began as a result of the brand’s Vans Custom Culture competition, a shoe design competition that allows participants to submit custom designs for the chance to win $25,000 and have their design produced by Vans. 

One sneaker design, attributed to Canada-based user Naomiso, according to a CNN report, depicted the flower on Hong Kong’s flag, cartoon figures of protesters in hard hats, gas masks and goggles, and a yellow umbrella, a symbol of the 2014 Hong Kong protests.

As votes for the shoe rose, the design was suddenly removed on Saturday, causing outrage on social media from protest supporters, as well as calls for a boycott. 

Vans posted a statement regarding the removal in both Chinese and English on its Facebook page. 

“As a brand that is open to everyone, we have never taken a political position and therefore review designs to ensure they are in line with our company’s long-held values of respect and tolerance, as well as with our clearly communicated guidelines for this competition,” the brand wrote.

“Based on the global competitions guidelines, Vans can confirm that a small number of artistic submissions have been removed. This decision was taken to uphold the purpose of Custom Culture.”

Sneaker chain Dahood, which operates multiple Vans franchise stores in Hong Kong, wrote on Facebook that it was suspending operations at three locations because of "the controversy caused by the Custom Culture design contest."

The 2019 Hong Kong protests, which began peacefully in June in response to a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, have now persisted for nearly four months.

Vans is not the only name in retail that has been impacted: brands like Levi Strauss and Hugo Boss have temporarily closed stores in the area as protests cause business to slump. 

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