October 8, 2019 / 6:32 AM / 8 months ago

Sports brand Vans removes Hong Kong sneaker in design competition

BEIJING, Oct 8 (Reuters) - U.S. 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.

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.

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 $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. (Reporting by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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