French fashion brand Veja makes sneakers with raw materials sourced from organic farming and ecological agriculture that the founders say avoids chemicals and polluting processes. The distinctive kicks might just be the world’s most sustainable, according to CNN Business.
Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion started Veja in 2004. Their goal is to make sneakers from the most ecological materials and ethical suppliers possible, they told CNN Business journalist Andrea Lo. Paris-based Veja, Portuguese for “look,” sources materials from Brazil and manufactures sneakers at a plant in the country.
“This product is a symbol for our generation,” the co-founders say on their site. “It’s also a product that crystallizes the major issues of globalization through its production, dissemination, and usage.”
The duo call Veja their project, with one foot in design and the other in social responsibility. This means protecting the Amazon, upcycling materials, and being transparent about everything from chemical testing to wages.
“A lot of our clients are discovering what is behind Veja after they buy one or two pairs,” Kopp told Lo. He added that clients usually come back for more after learning the brand’s story. The sneakers, which retail from $95 to $195, have been donned by celebrities like Meghan Markle.
The co-founders say purchase organic cotton directly from farmer associations in Brazil and Peru at a pre-set price, all while respecting fair trade principles.
Each sneaker sole is made from 30 – 40% natural rubber. “We buy rubber in the Amazon forest, directly from seringueiro communities,” the company’s leaders say. Since 2004, Veja has purchased 130 tons of wild rubber, preserving 120,000 hectares of the Amazon.
One Veja design out of four is 100% vegan. However, the leather used comes from southern Brazil. “We work with a tannery that was audited and certified Gold by the Leather Working Group,” according to the company. They also perform random checks throughout the year to monitor the level of chrome, making sure it meets REACH standards.
For the last five years, Veja has used “fish leather” from tilapia in their shoes. Usually discarded by freshwater fish farms, the skin gets upcycled through a handcrafted process involving vegetable dyeing.
Other examples of upcycling include B-Mesh fabric made entirely from recycled PET plastic and J-Mesh fabric from a combination of jute, recycled cotton, and recycled PET. On average, it takes three plastic bottles to make one pair of sneakers.
“Every year, we perform a social audit to make sure our factories respect our values and meet our criteria, and to identify the areas where we could still improve and do better,” the co-founders say. They map their production and publish their fair trade documents, organic labeling certificates, and results of chemical tests carried out on the sneakers.
Kopp and Morillion are transparent about their limitations, too. For example, their shoelaces aren’t made from organic cotton and the eyelets don’t contain nickel, but come from metal the company didn’t source themselves. The two founders are also the sole shareholders because they believe that bringing in outside investors could undermine Veja’s integrity.
Although it costs five to seven times more for Veja to make sneakers than it does other companies, they’ve eschewed advertising, which allows them to stay competitive on retail price.
“We take longer to design our shoes than other big brands,” the co-founders say of their project. “We love designing sneakers that we’ll be proud to wear in 10 years.”