"Behind the Wall!"
These Hong Kong protests, I’ll tell you what, are the very picture of “put your money where your mouth is.” What began as an infuriated local roar against Beijing attempting to alter extradition laws in the “Special Administrative Region” has morphed into a pitched battle between those who actually believe in freedom and those who simply profit off the idea.
Western company after western corporation has either remained mum, tiptoeing around silently in order to do business with billions of Chinese by bowing to authoritarian desires, or straight up capitulated.
Apple was the latest to mock its own ideals. The Bay Area-based tech giant has, since its inception, traded on being “different.” Recent campaigns have celebrated Colin Kapernick, every nuanced LGBTQ victory, women’s soccer. The brand’s most lauded advertisement ever featured Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. etc. but when it came to providing apps for Hong Kong citizens looking to get around their city without getting eaten by dogs, Apple vanished it quickly along with any other sort of anything that frustrates Beijing’s ruling class.
Vans, the shoe with its very roots in surf and skate culture and with marketing that depicts living “Off the Wall,” has also been utterly hypocritized and, as the story gained national news, we must go to CNN for the very latest.
Skateboarding brand Vans is facing a boycott in Hong Kong after it removed a shoe alluding to the city’s anti-government protests from a sneaker design competition.
The company’s decision to withdraw the proposed design was met with outrage on social media, where users began uploading videos and photos of themselves throwing their Vans sneakers in the trash, and even setting them on fire.
Held annually, the Vans Custom Culture competition invites the public to submit their own shoe designs, with the winner of an online vote receiving $25,000 and having their sneakers manufactured by the brand.
After voting opened last week, one entry quickly rose to the top, reportedly garnering tens of thousands of votes — a shoe themed around the monthslong protests in the semi-autonomous city.
Like Apple disappeared their app, Vans disappeared the Hong Kong shoe, releasing the following statement once the uproar reached volume.
“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.”
Amazing that freedom of expression is considered a “political position” especially from a brand that uses our world for its inspiration. That “respect and tolerance” includes respect and tolerance for China’s hideous totalitarianism. Vans hosts a punk festival, for pity’s sake. A punk-ish festival and the U.S. Open of Surfing.
I would really love if there was more to the story, more to Van’s reasoning than pure, bald-faced market considerations, licking lips at a new potential billion plus customers. I reached out to Vans but haven’t heard back and this piece will likely come with a substantial financial hit for the Biggest Little Surf Website in the World but what the hell?
The thought of life behind China’s totalitarian awful makes me shudder.
It should make Vans executives shudder as well unless they want to change the tagline to “Behind the Wall.”