Sports brand Vans removes Hong Kong sneaker in design competition

Asia Business World

BEIJING: US sports brand Vans removed “a small number” of submissions in a global sneaker design competition, including one featuring a yellow umbrella and people wearing helmets and masks, as the company distanced itself from months-long protests in Hong Kong.

Vans is the latest company caught in the crosshairs of anti-government protests in Hong Kong that have plunged the Asia financial hub into its worst crisis in decades. Global companies such as Vans, fearing a consumer backlash from mainland customers if found to be political, are walking a tightrope in their marketing campaigns.

READ: Hong Kong police fire tear gas at protesters outside Prince Edward MTR station

READ: Hong Kong Cabinet member floats Internet censorship to contain unrest

The Vans Global Custom Culture competition this year had received submissions from over 100,000 artists and creators from around the globe, and the shoe-maker invited the public to cast their votes for most popular designs eight days ago.

Media reports said a design from a Canada-based user named Naomiso was the most popular, according to votes cast online, before it was taken down on Saturday (Oct 5).

It featured a red bauhinia, the flower on Hong Kong’s flag, and a yellow umbrella, a nod to the 2014 protests that some refer to as the umbrella revolution. A group of people wearing helmets, masks and goggles can be seen on the side of the sneaker design.

A search of the username Naomiso on the Custom Culture’s website did not yield any result on Tuesday.

“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,” Vans said in a Facebook statement on Saturday.

“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,” said Vans, a unit of VF Corp.

Winners will win US$25,000 and have their designs manufactured and sold by the brand.

Vans did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Tuesday.

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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