With its signature V of varied colors, the famed sneaker brand Veja increased sales in 2020 by 115% and has become "Lyst's most sought-after non-leather product." Its success story begins with a reality check, in 2003. Founders François-Ghislain Morillion and Sébastien Kopp visited a Chinese factory during an audit for a French firm. Everything was going well until they went to visit the accommodation the company provided for employees, as they explain on their website. They found themselves in a 25-square-meter room where 32 employees were sleeping together, where they realized that globalization had gone wrong. It was then that the duo decided to launch a new and innovative sustainable fashion project, based on "the most symbolic product of our generation": sneakers.
A Brand with Purpose The word "veja" means "see" in Portuguese. With this naming, Kopp and Morillion wanted to evoke a "looking beyond", to encourage consumers to look not only at the product they see, but also at how it is made and on what principles. Ethics and environmental responsibility permeate their entire business model, from manufacturing with renewable energy and recycled materials to packaging. The brand always explains how it was produced, under what conditions, and by whom. As a certified B Corp company, the business model of these two entrepreneurs is based on adding a positive impact at each step of the production chain. Thus, they bet on organic and fair trade cotton from Brazil, where Veja's factory is located, for the body of their sneakers. In addition, they try to innovate with the introduction of new materials, and alternatives to leather. "In 2014 we developed B-Mesh, a material 100% made from plastic bottles collected from the streets of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo," Kopp told the business daily 'Expansión'. But before, in the beginning, they had already gone to the Amazon to look for rubber for the soles. "We buy it in the jungle, directly from the communities of rubber tappers, paying a fair price. The collectors would rather work for us than cut the trees to raise cattle," he says. One of his latest bets is the Campo model, made from corn residues. Veja only produces what it knows it will sell. To avoid generating a surplus, the brand places orders with a view to the next six months. To buy a Veja sneaker, you must pay for it in advance. This way, if there is a drought or bad crop year (Brazil is prone to drought) and the organic cotton harvest is not enough to make the sneakers, they bet on recycled cotton and make sure the farmers keep getting paid.
Veja buys cotton from 320 Brazilian families that live from eco-agriculture, taking care and respecting the rules of fair trade. These crops are grown without the use of chemicals and pesticides. And it is there, specifically in the Brazilian state of Ceará, where these eco sneakers originate. The materials that make up the shoe deserve a mention: very high-quality vegan suede, soles made of rubber from the Amazon forests, organic cotton, and recycled materials, among others. And all this from processes that are respectful of the planet. For example, for the rubber in the soles, the Seringueiros (the forest bleeders) cultivate from the bleeding trees. These are rubber trees with cuts in the bark, which were made to bleed the sap, which after being extracted from the rubber tree is transformed into rubber. This method prevents deforestation and helps cattle breeding. Veja assures that 60% of all the soles of its sneakers are made of wild natural rubber. In addition, these made-in-Brazil sneakers are the first to use B-Mesh (Bottle Mesh), a plastic made from recycled plastic bottles. They do have a pending issue, and they openly admit it: today, it is totally impossible to know for sure the origin of the leather or to be certain that the cattle has been treated with the utmost care. Veja's next goal is to fully control its chain of leather suppliers, from the animal's breeding to the finishing of the material. No Advertising Since its inception, the brand has decided never to invest in advertising. The money that would be spent on advertising goes instead to ensure that the salaries of all its workers are decent, guaranteeing that there is no precarious employment in the company: neither for the pickers in the Amazon rainforest nor for the sales clerks in Veja's stores in Paris. Veja has reached the top of the podium by relying on social networks such as Instagram because it refuses to advertise because of the expense involved, as well as to accumulate stock, so it produces only a few months ahead to avoid overstocking and wasting materials. A sustainable concept of fashion that extends to the green electricity used by the company's French headquarters or its European network of warehouses and logistics, which works with Ateliers Sans Frontières, an organization that seeks to reintegrate ex-convicts and people who have given up drugs to find their place in society again.