Several weeks ago I posted an article entitled, London Fashion Week: Doubly Green, in which I presented several eco-brands that debuted at estethica—London Fashion Week's green initiative.
One of the companies featured was Veja, a Paris-based company that designs comfortable shoe wear inspired by 1970's Brazilian volleyball styles and produced by coops in the remote Amazon. Intrigued by Veja's three pillars of ethics, I requested an exclusive interview, to which the company responded immediately:
How was Veja conceived?
Veja was created as a challenge; the idea was to make sneakers and to respect both the environment and the work of people, from raw materials to the deliveries in stores.
I always enjoy a good challenge! So, who exactly was the driving force of this challenge?
Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion, the co-founders, went around the world to study sustainable development projects made by big companies and realized that, in order to change things truly, one had to create a project that respects nature and men at its heart.
That's drive! But how did fashion and apparel factor into the challenge?
They both were sneakers addicts and decided to create some in Brazil, where all the necessary raw materials can be found: organic cotton for the canvas (in the North East) and wild rubber for the soles (from the Amazonian forest).
Tell me a bit about the coops that I mentioned in my first article...
Veja works with a cooperative of small producers who grow organic cotton in the North East of Brazil.
How do these small producers grow the cotton?
The cotton is grown without manure and pesticides according to agro-ecology—a sustainable farming model that also takes into account the producers’ food independence and soil erosion, among other things.
And Veja's role?
Veja buys this cotton according to fair trade rules.
I also wrote about the soles of the sneakers. Please tell me more...
The soles of the sneakers are made from wild rubber. Rubber comes from the hevea trees that grow in the wild, in the Amazonian forest, and is collected by Seringueiros—people of the forest who live on rubber harvesting.
So how do these people and the forest benefit?
Using wild rubber and paying a fair price to the Seringueiros is a way to increase the value of the forest and to fight against deforestation.
Do you employ any chemicals in the manufacturing process?
The leather used is ecologically tanned, that is to say, tanned with vegetable extracts, such as acacia extracts.
How about the factory conditions?
The sneakers are assembled in a factory near Porto Alegre. The factory is regularly audited to make sure that the rights and dignity of the workers are respected.
Once the sneakers are processed, where do they go?
The sneakers are then shipped to France where Ateliers Sans Frontières, a social association, stocks and delivers them.
Just an aside...why doesn't Veja produce other garments?
The co-founders chose to make sneakers as they are an accurate example of inequalities between Northern and Southern countries. As a consequence, creating sneakers made from fair trade and ecological materials is symbolic.
You just scored a goal with me! And have you achieved your goals since accepting the green challenge?
There are always things to better; for example, the dyeing, we would like it to be more natural, but the colors are not satisfactory. We also think about recycling.
What is your long-term goal?
From Brazil to stores, Veja tries to build solidarity and an ecological chain.
Many companies describe themselves as green but lack a written and enforced code of ethics...
Our code of ethics has been at the heart of the project since its very beginning, using ecological materials, working according to fair trade rules, and assembling in respect of workers’ rights and dignity.