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Vans Shoes Tossed Out, Set On Fire Following Design Competition Backlash

Skate brand Vans has been told to ‘Lick The Wall’ after the company blocked anti-China designs in a shoe competition, leading to widespread boycotts in Hong Kong and an #AntiVansChallenge erupting on social media.

Vans is now the latest American corporation unwillingly dragged into the sprawling conflict between China and Hong Kong, and it's all to do with masks and colours it didn't want on its classic sneakers.

The American shoe company was dragged into this controversy thanks to its regular Custom Culture competition, where ordinary people can share their own designs to go on the sneakers.

From there, a publicly-voted winner claims a cash prize and gets their illustration printed on shoes.

The shoe design removed from the Vans competition. Image: Supplied

However, some designs featuring images associated with Hong Kong protesters -- including people wearing gas masks, hard hats, yellow umbrellas and the flower symbol used by pro-democracy demonstrators -- were reportedly removed as design contenders.

One such design received nearly 40,000 votes online before it was removed.

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"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 company posted on a Vans Hong Kong official Facebook page on October 5.

"Based on the global competitions guidelines, Vans can confirm that a small number of artistic submissions have been removed."

The decision sparked outrage in Hong Kong, with some retailers announcing they would not stock Vans.

"In view of the controversy over the earlier custom culture design competition held by Vans worldwide, our group decided to suspend the operation of three Vans affiliate stores from today until further notice. Sorry for the inconvenience!" Retailer, Dahood, wrote on Facebook.

The retailer's post had received more than 17,000 likes on Tuesday.

Another popular retailer, Husky, also said they would remove Vans from sale until further notice.

The backlash has resulted in the birth of the #AntiVansChallenge on social media, with people defacing Vans shoes or spraying them with pro-Hong Kong messages.

READ MORE: Hong Kong Bans Face Masks As Protests Rage On

One artist is offering to draw pro-Hong Kong images and messages on people's Vans shoes for free.

Some have joked that the company's famous motto, 'Off The Wall', should be changed to 'Lick The Great Wall' -- a reference to what they see as acquiescence to China.

Other people have started selling their shoes, or even setting them alight.

It comes as a number of large American corporations have been criticised for choosing one side or the other in the boiling tensions between China and Hong Kong.

The NBA basketball league is still in damage control after the manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted a pro-Hong Kong message, leading to the team being blacklisted by Chinese sponsors and broadcasters.

Despite major apologies from the team and the NBA itself, the controversy continues -- with the league now accused by some of "shamefully retreating" in the face of Chinese criticism.

In contrast, Starbucks coffee shops have been vandalised by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong in recent weeks.

After the daughter of the founder of Starbucks' franchisee company in the country claimed protesters were "rioters", several stores had their windows smashed.

This week, risque cartoon South Park was also essentially erased from the internet in China, with references scrubbed from social media and the show vanished from streaming services.

It comes after a recent controversial episode -- 'Band In China' -- where the show's creators accused the American entertainment industry of censoring or changing content to avoid upsetting Chinese audiences and authorities.

"Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts," show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone said in a statement.

"We too love money more than freedom and democracy."