Vans has removed a shoe design by a Canada-based artist that supported Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement from its annual Custom Culture shoe contest.
The design, submitted by an artist called ‘Naomiso’, had received the highest number of votes in the sneaker brand’s annual customisation competition when it was pulled on Saturday (5 October), according to Business of Fashion, which first reported the news.
Naomiso’s design featured a red bauhinia flower, figures in yellow gas masks and helmets and a yellow umbrella — all symbols of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
The brand published a statement on its Hong Kong Facebook page on Saturday confirming that it has removed "a small number of artistic submissions" that breached its competition guidelines.
“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.
“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,” it added.
The design submitted by Naomiso had drawn over 141,000 votes since the competition opened on 1 October, which was well ahead of the rest of the entries at the time. The top design now, by ‘Najlaarzk’ in Malaysia, has 16,800 votes at time of publication.
The terms of the customisation competition state that the entry with the highest votes will win $25,000 and have their design produced by Vans. Three winners will be announced on 19 December.
Vans is the latest brand to become swept up in the in the intensifying protests in Hong Kong.
In June, Nike cancelled the mainland release of its collaboration with Undercover, after the brand’s designer Jun Takahashi posted a photo on Instagram in support of the ongoing demonstrations.
In July a decision by Pocari Sweat Hong Kong to pull advertising from local broadcaster TVB for its allegedly biased coverage of the protests resulted in calls to boycott the brand.
Zara was forced to clarify its stance after closing a store in September during a city-wide strike, and H&M came under similar fire in early August for a store closure, although internet users took particular umbrage with a notice on the store’s door that had a yellow Post-it note reading “Support!” alongside it.
Campaign reached out to VF Corporation, which owns Vans, for comment. They did not respond by time of publication.