This cool Parisian brand was founded in 2004 by Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion. This article is based on two interviews with Sébastien Kopp, you can listen to them too, scroll to the bottom to see them.
Sébastien and François-Ghislain were best friends with a mission to address social welfare through business. As business graduates they went to the States to work in the financial sector but quickly decided to change their path. They set up an NGO together offering analysis and consulting services reviewing sustainability practices for large corportations. During this time the pair spent a lot of time travelling, in 25 different countries, and visiting factories and were disappointed with what they saw. Sébastien estimates that 70% of brands claims were greenwashing. So the pair decide to do it themselves, at 25 years old they have the realisation that globalisation has failed in terms of global social welfare. They have a clear intention to create good products through transparent business.
With just $5,000 dollars each and their experiences they found VEJA. They chose sneakers as they are from the generation of sneakers, Sébastien tells Claire on The Wardrobe Crisis podcast. The generation that has allowed sneakers to be worn at work and on the street and not just for sports. They choose Brazil for it’s labour standards, resources, culture and for the language. It is possible to learn well as native French speakers, relative to Chinese for example. They choose VEJA because it means “Look” in Portuguese. This implies, look further, look beyond the sneakers, look how’s it made and who has made it. Sébastien states “It’s not a call for action, it’s a call for conscience”. If you are wondering how to pronounce it, we recommend jumping to 2.47 of the Hype podcast (see the link at the bottom of the page).
VEJA finds solutions to economic and environmental disparities at every stage. The cotton used in the fabric is grown in Brazil using agro-ecology. This is the opposite of mono-cropping. It enriches soils and allows farmers to diversify. They also use bmesh, a fabric made by upcycling plastics and textile industry waste. The rubber soles, made from natural latex, are tapped from trees in the rainforest. This keeps the rainforest intact and gives it economic value. When removed it is a dense milk-like substance, this is then turned into sheets and transported to the factories in Southern Brazil to be produced into to the soles of the sneakers. The sneakers are designed, slowly, in Paris. A good design is one that lasts a lifetime Sébastien affirms. VEJA typically releases 2-3 new styles a year. The entire sneaker is produced in Brazil. Producing the entire product in one country in today’s footwear production industry is unusual. The sneakers are shipped (not air freighted) across to their warehouse in France. Their logistics is handled in conjunction with a NGO that works with people who have faced challenging experiences with drugs or alcohol or have spent time in prison. VEJA doesn’t spend any money on advertising arguing that by eliminating these costs they can invest in reality rather than fiction.
The elimination of advertising costs ensures that VEJA can pay workers fairly and for resources fairly throughout the supply chain. Advertising is “nonsense” according to Sébastien. For the cost of conventional sneakers, 70% is spent on advertising! Sébastien explains to Claire (The Wardrobe Crisis) that at VEJA the sneakers cost 5-7 times more than that of conventional sneakers made in Asia.
Sébastien says that he prefers transparency over sustainability. Throughout both interviews he speaks very highly of spending time in the field, working with suppliers and understanding their processes and their way of life. He argues that understanding the economic chain from farmer to product gives you better intentions when designing a product. For a brand to be transparent in its actions, this approach to production is indispensable. The fashion industry needs more people that think like Sébastien.