Skateboarding shoe and apparel brand Vans is facing boycotts by consumers and backlash in Hong Kong for pulling a shoe design supportive of pro-democracy protesters from a competition, according to CNN.
Vans annually holds a contest called the Vans Custom Culture competition, calling for members of the public to submit shoe designs. People then vote online for their favorite, with the winning designer winning a $25,000 prize and having the company manufacture the winning design.
A designer from Canada that goes by the name Naomiso submitted a design that featured yellow umbrellas (a symbol of Hong Kong's 2014 pro-democracy protests), a red bauhinia flower (which is on the Hong Kong flag), and drawings of protesters wearing hard hats, gas masks, and goggles.
The design was the most popular, but with one week of voting remaining, Vans pulled the design, and issued a statement generally addressing a "small number of artistic submissions" that were removed.
Vans is committed to enabling creative expression and the Custom Culture Competition brings our purpose to life by engaging and supporting individual artists worldwide. In providing this platform, Vans hopes that both artists and participants around the world will use it to celebrate creativity and spread positivity.
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.
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.
We greatly appreciate the effort that every single artist has made to contribute to this forum, and we look forward to many more contributions from our fans and consumers around the globe. Supporters of the Hong Kong protests responded on Twitter using the hashtag #BoycottVans, which included videos of people throwing away or burning their Vans shoes.
Dahood, a shoe chain that has Vans franchises in Hong Kong, announced that it would suspend operations at its three locations because Vans removed the Hong Kong protest design.
Protests in Hong Kong began in response to a bill introduced in April that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China, creating fears among Hong Kong residents they they could be exposed to unfairly harsh treatment under the Chinese judicial system.
The bill was suspended in September, but protests continue as demonstrators seek amnesty for protesters who have been arrested, an investigation into police brutality, universal suffrage, and the resignation of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.