Achieving a cult status is something that the majority of young brands can only dream of. Veja has made it look easy. Set up by two Frenchmen, Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion,10 years ago who had a dream to produce a more environmentally friendly trainer, the brand has become one of the biggest success stories in sustainable fashion.
A mix of nonchalant cool style that only the French know how to perfect and values that reflect what the current generation believe in has made them one of the most wanted trainer brands. What’s even more encouraging is that it that it engages customers in who recognise the brand but don’t necessarily know the story, many of whom become newly converted to the benefits of shopping ethically. So what is it that makes Veja so special? From design, to production to the people we tell their story below:
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN:
Veja's founders had previously worked on sustainability projects around the world and decided it was time to prove that innovative design, fair trade and eco-friendliness could go together. The pair travelled to Brazil to meet with families farming organic cotton and tapping wild Amazonian rubber. And so Veja began. The duo now work with 350 families split into 5 cooperatives. Their original designs were based on a 1970s Brazilian Volleyball trainer which quickly evolved into various collections we now know and love.
"We won't stop showing people that fashion design and respect for the environment are achievable, even if it is not the easier path to follow."
Located in the Northeast of Brazil, the state of Ceará has vast wealth inequalities, fragile soils and a tendency towards drought. In contrast to the predominant monoculture farming system, a group of small producers grow cotton and food plants under agro-ecology principals which ban agro-chemicals and pesticides.
For those small-scale farmers (1 hectare of land on average), farming development goes hand-in-hand with environmental protection. Veja buys cotton from 320 families who live from organic farming. Respecting fair trade rules. This cotton is spun then weaved into canvas for Veja sneakers and accessories.
ESPLAR (after whom the sneaker style is named) is a Brazilian NGO based in Fortaleza, in the state of Ceará – provides technical support to the organic cotton farmers and advises them in the field, helping them foster the agro-ecological paradigm.
The agricultural engineers of ESPLAR give support and help the farmers to organise and protect their harvests. By introducing neem trees, for instance, they have created a natural protection for the cotton plants. The oil extracted from the neem fruits creates a natural repulsive to insects that attack the cotton.
Mixed farming provides on-going food for the cotton growers and preserves the fragile soils. In the fields, cotton is planted beside the daily diet of the farmers – corn, sesame seeds and beans.
More and more farmers of the region are now converting from their traditional farming to agroecology. They see it as a way to preserve the soil but also to protect their own health. This new farming method shields them from the toxic substances of pesticides.
The Amazon is the only place on earth where rubber trees grow in the wild.
Inside the Chico Mendès extractive reserve, located in the Brazilian state of Acre, Veja work with Amopreab, an association of Seringeiros – the rubber tappers. We also recently started to work with two new associations located in Feijó Distric in the state of Acre: “Parque da Cigana” & ” Seringal Curralinho”. Today, 60 families of Seringeiros are part of our project.
The Amazonian rubber tappers live in the forest and harvest from the trees. The rubber is then used in the soles of Veja trainers.
Since the 60’s, the increasing use of synthetic rubber derived from petroleum has resulted in a very low price for natural rubber.
The inhabitants of the forest have thus moved from rubber tapping to more profitable activities such as cattle-raising and wood extraction which both involve land clearing. As a consequence, soils are no longer protected by the cover of vegetation and are subject to an accelerated erosion rate and desertification.
The survival of the Amazonian rainforest is dependent on more sustainable management of its resources. Latex extracted from rubber trees is one of them.
A fairer price paid for latex guarantees a better income for the rubber tappers and might be perceived as an incentive to keep trees up.
Veja trainers are made in factories located in the state of Rio Grande Do Sul, a well-developed region in South Brazil. Workers’ rights are respected and extra hours are paid. The factories have become real partners for Veja over the past years the brand has been working with them. Veja's continuously evolving standards push them to adapt and constantly improve the fabrication conditions. Social audits carried out in the factories as part of the certification process (FLO-Cert and Ecolabel) have also encouraged this progress.
THE STYLES WE LOVE:
ESPLAR EXTRA WHITE