Not only is VEJA the future of footwear, it is the future of business. Since its inception 15 year ago, the brand has consistently bettered its practices, innovated its design process, and reinvented what it means to be a company with morals. Nothing is ever too good to be improved upon, and no area of the company is immune from positive change. Whether they are sourcing fair trade materials in Brazil, or reintegrating workers into their warehouse in France, VEJA works across the board to be a company that can be revered and emulated. We spoke with the team in France about what to expect next from the world’s most sustainable sneaker brand. Here’s what you should know about our favorite sneaker brand in 2020, and beyond.
Steps To A Greener Future
All of VEJA’s sneakers are made in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, where workers are paid a fair wage and live in comfortable conditions. Factory employees receive 4 weeks of paid vacation a year, typically work 40-hour workweeks, receive overtime compensation for any additional hours, and is set up with the INSS (the Brazilian government’s retirement plan).
Since the brand began in 2004, VEJA has purchased and used 265 tons or organic cotton directly from producers in Taua, Brazil and Chincha, Peru. The brand uses this fair trade organic cotton to make their sneakers’ canvas. Although the dyes used for the canvas are not organic, they respect European REACH* standards. The use of organic cotton opposed to a non-organic alternative allows VEJA farmers to rest easy knowing that they are not negatively impacting the environment through intense irrigation practices or destroying the air quality with an exorbitant amount of pollutants.
VEJA upcycles cotton collected from fashion industry waste. It combines that cotton with recycled jute and polyester to breath new life into once discarded materials.
By purchasing 195 tons of wild rubber since 2004, VEJA has preserved 120,000 hectares of the Amazon forest. This rubber is purchased directly from Brazilian rubber gatherers, otherwise known as seringueiro communities. The rubber trees are bled with traditional techniques. After the extraction, a coagulating agent is added before the liquid is filtered and transformed into rubber sheets. The drying process to create these sheets happens within seringuerios’ homes. This is not only economically advantageous for the communities, but it also avoids deforestation and excessive cattle farming.
When it comes to leather, VEJA does not think it’s a necessity. One in four pairs of VEJA shoes is vegan.
When the brand does use the material, they make sure to understand exactly where it is coming from, and what chemicals have been used on it. All leather’s that the brand uses meet Europe’s REACH standards. Since 2013, the brand has been working with Tilapia leather on some of its models.
On the other side of the globe in France, VEJA works with Ateliers Sans Frontieres to manage all of the company’s logistics. ASF is a reintegration workshop; meaning that it works with those who have been out of the workforce, because of jail time or various other reasons, work their way back into society. Over 200 workers have stabilized themselves after doing logistics work for VEJA.
As part of its efforts to be the most sustainable footwear brand in the world, VEJA is constantly finding more sustainable materials to utilize in their footwear. This year marks four of their biggest game changers to date.
Chrome Free Leather: Leather that is tanned without the use of chrome, heavy metals, or hazardous acids. The simplified steps reduce the amount of chemicals, energy, and water used in leather tanning by about 40%. The process also reduces salt use by 80%, and allows the water to be recycled.
B-Mesh: AKA, bottle-mesh, is made from 100% recycled polyester. In Santo Andre, Brazil, recycled bottles are collected, sorted and turned into plastic flakes. Those flakes are turned into polyester fiber after extradition. It takes three plastic bottles to make a pair of VEJA sneaks.
C.W.L.: VEJA’s newest leather alternative is an Italian made, bio-sourced material made from waxed canvas with 50% corn waste. C.W.L is biodegradable, and is comparable in touch and look to leather.
Hexamesh: This material is 70% organic cotton and 30% recycled plastic, highly breathable, and was created for lightweight shoes in the brand’s SS19 collection.
Words: James Francis Kelley