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Not just a pretty pair of sneakers, Veja’s eco-friendly credentials have helped build their reputation as one of the most sought-after trainers on the market. Scroll down to discover the compelling tale behind the fashion set's trainer of choice…
It’s 2003, and François-Ghislain Morillion and Sébastien Kopp future founders of Veja, are conducting a social audit for a French fashion brand at a Chinese factory. Things were going well until they asked to see the living quarters. Sébastien reveals "at first, the director refused, but after insisting and arguing, he opened the doors. We found ourselves in a 25 square meter room where 32 Chinese workers were sleeping together, stacked in 5-level bunk beds. And in the middle of the room, only a hole that served both as a shower and a toilet. On that day, we realized globalization had gone wrong."
Shell-shocked the two young French men starting working with Tristan Lecomte who had just started AlterEco, a fair trade food company that worked directly with producers and farmers. Sébastien adds "Here we saw first-hand how fair trade changes the economy, making it more balanced." This revelation would be the driving force for inventing a fair trade product. Sébastien admits there was no argument on what they would make "it had to be the most symbolic object of our generation. We were the ones wearing sneakers in the 1990s, when they became massively popular and went from sport fields to the streets."
THE NEXT STEP
Their first stop was the Amazon where they met the seringueiros, a community that lives in harmony with nature. Sébastien shares "at first, it was a bit complicated, we were gringos who barely spoke Portuguese, and we are in the middle of the jungle. Everyday gave us 1,000 reasons to lose hope. But the wild rubber trees became the cornerstone of our sneakers."
From there they travelled to the Brazilian Nordeste, where they found a small cooperative of agro-ecological cotton producers, growing without fertilizers or pesticides and supported by a local NGO.
In the Brazilian Nordeste, we discover the principles behind agroecology: it makes the soil richer after the harvest instead of harming it.Sébastien Kopp
In Portuguese, VEJA means "look". In our minds, it means look through your sneakers, look what’s behind.Sébastien Kopp
Four years on from their launch and they are not satisfied enough with their transparency. Sébastien continues "we realized that even though we make a very transparent product, with a positive impact, the company itself was not transparent enough. So we start by choosing banks that have no branches in tax heavens, and we change our power supplier to Enercoop, who provides green electricity collected from small independent producers. Then we started posting our limits on the VEJA website. Everything we do wrong, we post it, we publish everything. And we love it."
Veja's winning formula is not just down to cool kicks, they have their foot firmly placed across: fashion, fair trade, organic farming, social inclusion, and transparency. That's what moves them 'beyond sneakers.'