Some Hong Kong customers are protesting the California skate wear company for purportedly removing a pro-democracy design from its annual sneaker customization competition. Winners of the international contest receive $25,000 and their designs are sold by Vans.
The design that was allegedly removed was submitted by a Canadian artist under the name “Naomiso.” The entry reportedly drew more than 140,000 votes to take a top spot in the contest but was reportedly taken off the site on Oct. 5.
“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,” Vans wrote in a Facebook post, although it did not confirm whether it removed the specific design in question. “Based on the global competitions guidelines, Vans can confirm that a small number of artistic submissions have been removed.”
Netizens in favor of Hong Kong independence had taken to Twitter to express their disdain for Vans’ supposed decision to remove the design in question, using the hashtag “BoycottVans.” Tweets show several users throwing Vans sneakers in the garbage and some drawing pro-democracy designs on their sneakers.
Protests in Hong Kong began around four months ago in response to a proposal that would have allowed residents to be extradited to the Chinese mainland. Hong Kong is a territory of China but has long operated semi-autonomously.
Hong Kong tourism has plummeted by nearly 40% since protests began, leading to a 23% decrease in luxury sales.
Vans is not the first brand to find itself ensnared in controversy over the Hong Kong protests. Coach, Givenchy and Versace all found themselves in hot water with Chinese customers this August over T-shirt designs that demarcated Hong Kong as a separate country from China.
In June, Nike made the choice to pull its collaboration with Japanese streetwear label Undercover from Chinese shelves after Undercover shared a post supporting the pro-independence protests.
FN has reached out to Vans for comment.