27/04/18 Who Made My Shoes?

It seems like nowadays it’s all about finding the right pair of kicks. Ones that are loyal in all situations, from picking up groceries to pounding the pavements of a new city. With the style and comfort boxes checked, the next challenge comes when trying to figure out how they were made and from what materials. More often than not, the shoe industry, and in particular trainers, are traditionally not the most ethical or environmentally friendly.  

That’s all changing though. VEJA is the ethical and sustainable footwear brand that’s a favourite amongst the fashion pack, thanks to their clean lines and minimalistic details. Developed by Parisians Francois-Ghislai Morillon and Sebastien Kopp, with the mission to develop eco-friendly shoes that don’t look like eco-friendly shoes, the 14-year-old brand is particularly proud of the radical way its sneakers are made.

While auditing a Chinese factory in 2003, the founders witnessed horrible working conditions and realised that with globalisation something had gone terribly wrong. Many brands were already talking about sustainable initiatives, but they proved to be empty words. So the founders took it upon themselves to shake things up in order to make a real difference. And with that, VEJA was born.

 

Image courtesy: VEJA

Why sneakers, you might ask. Because as a consumer product of their generation, it stood as a symbol for their cohort. It also seemed to be the most interesting challenge, as 70% of the costs of a conventional trainers brand goes into advertising. Even if VEJA sneakers cost up to five times more to produce, they are able to sell them at a reasonable retail price as the brand invests in zero advertising.

Known for its clean aesthetics and sustainable materials, every component of VEJA footwear has a story.

The cotton used is organic and produced by farmers in Brazil and Peru, where workers don’t have to worry about harmful pesticides poisoning their villages. The cotton is purchased by VEJA directly in accordance with Fair Trade principles. This allows the brand to cut out the middlemen and increase producer income.

 

Image courtesy: VEJA

The rubber is tapped by people in the Amazon using traditional techniques. For one kilo of harvested rubber, 1.2 ha of forest is protected every year, as the communities are making a living from sourcing rubber. This is in stark contrast to the pollution caused by manufacturing synthetic rubber which is used in the manufacturing of most footwear.

When it comes to the leather, it’s sourced from southern Brazil, making sure it doesn’t come from the Amazon nor from an area that was deforested for cattle farming. While the brand has reduced its vegetable tanning down to 10% of VEJA models (due to quality and costs), their tannery is audited and certified Gold by the Leather Working Group. To ensure the chrome doesn’t turn into the toxic chrome VI, the label performs random checks all years long, to monitor the level of chrome in their leathers; they meet REACH standards. As well as also incorporating up-cycled materials and, as of 2013 VEJA has been using fish leather in several of their models via a completely handcrafted process.  

 

Image courtesy: VEJA

Championing transparency throughout the supply chain, the label is able to trace every material used to make the shoes all the way back to the growers that harvest the raw materials. No other sneakers brand is offering this kind of openness, which means VEJA should be celebrated for not only their commitment to ethical and environmentally friendly practices, but doing so while delivering on style with every new collection. 

We love the aesthetic and now you know the backstory. Check out our VEJA faves here.