With both feet firmly stood in transparency, fair trade and social and environmental responsibility, French fashion brand VEJA make it look easy to go from the unknown to cult status. But how did this eco-conscious trainer brand become one of the biggest success stories in sustainable fashion? Let’s jump into the VEJA story.
A bright idea
In 2003 the concept of sustainable development was making its rounds in the fashion world. Yet there was no real action. Realising this and already working with sustainability projects around the world, 25 year old Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion, set out to reinvent a product. But not just any product, one of the most symbolic products of our time – the trainer.
Taking everything that they had learned through working with big corporations and Tristan Lecomte; the founder of AlterEco (the first French brand for Fair Trade) they took to the drawing board with an idea to create more than just your average trainer. Deconstructing the shoe and reconstructing it with the ethos of creating a product with greater economic justice. Truly changing each production stage to have a positive impact on the environment and society.
Starting from scratch, the pair of enthusiastic entrepreneurs took a trip to Brazil. They chose to work with the Seringueiros rubber tappers from the Amazonian rainforest who operate in harmony with the forest, extracting the wild rubber without harm to the environment. This rubber became the cornerstone of their iconic footwear.
Next came the cotton. Wanting more than just organic cotton. They began work with a very small cooperative of organic cotton farmers from the Northeast region of Brazil that grow their cotton without fertilisers or pesticides producing agro-ecological cotton. This benefits the soil after harvest. This organic cotton became the original upper of their first trainer.
Having found their raw materials in Brazil, it made sense to manufacture their shoes in the state of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil; a well-developed region where workers’ rights are respected. Over the years the continuous evolving standards that VEJA hold have solidified a partnership with the assembly plant. Their innovative trainers are still made there today.
The original design was inspired by 1970s Brazilian Volleyball trainers. This was named the Volley. This archetype spawned 31 different VEJA styles since its birth with the straightforward design notion to create trainer styles that would stand the test of time. Classic and clean silhouettes enhanced by their distinctive V and heel counter branding. Establishing the iconic styles we know and love today like the V-10 and the Campo.
Consistently improving their concept and adapting their products, the use of leather was introduced. Not just any leather. All leather that VEJA use comes from tanneries audited and certified Gold by the Leather Working Group (L.W.G.). The LWG are an independent group that work on sustainable practices to reduce the environmental impact of leather, ensuring a chrome free material from cows that are solely fed from native vegetation.
Not happy with simply using responsibly sourced raw materials, VEJA branched into upcycling. An entirely new fabric made completely from recycled plastic bottles from the streets of Rio and Sao Paulo, called B-mesh was the result of their foray into innovation. A lightweight, breathable and waterproof fabric that made them the first trainer brand to use fabric made entirely out of recycled polyester. It takes an average of three plastic bottles to make one pair of VEJA trainers.
So to summarise, when VEJA say total transparency, they mean it. With an ethical footing at every stage of their business. From sourcing to distribution and everything in between VEJA’s ethos strives them to always do better; staying true to their principles from the day they started. With their stylish trainer options, conscious history from farm to foot and values that reflect the current generation’s beliefs, it’s no wonder they have become the leading brand in not just iconic sustainable styles but are at the forefront of mixing social projects, economic justice, and ecological materials.
“There’s a common thread in everything we do: transparency. This is the meaning for VEJA: in Portuguese, VEJA means “look”. In our minds, it means look through your sneakers, look at what’s beyond.”
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