Sep 14 2018
Conceptualised by Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion in 2003, Veja has always been driven by ethical, transparent processes and production. The turning point came when the then-25 year olds were visiting a Chinese factory for work. They spent a few days amongst the factory workers, and although their working conditions were acceptable, their living quarters were a different story. It was at this moment that Kopp and Morillion realised ‘globalisation had gone wrong’.
Back then, ‘big companies were already throwing around concepts like sustainable development… but it was all talk’. But one small French company called AlterEco demonstrated firsthand how fair-trade practises can change the economy - for Kopp and Moriliion, it was a revelation: ‘Instead of diving into the internet like the rest of our generation, we thought we should try and reinvent the product… deconstruct it, and rebuild it differently’
Heading to Brazil, the pair found themselves in the Amazon rainforest searching for a rubber source amongst the seringueros. Harvesting wild rubber from rubber trees, these communities live harmoniously in and from the forest without cutting down trees or destroying their environment. Since then, 40% of all Veja shoes have been made with rubber from this original source
The chosen product was sneakers, which, as a consumer product are very interesting. On an economic level, big sneaker brands concentrate most of their earnings on advertising - at least 70% of the cost goes to advertising and communication with only 30% going to raw materials and production. This is where Veja flipped the switch; ‘we thought if we gave up advertising, we could make sneakers that were five times more expensive produce, yet still offer them at the same retail price as the big brands’. By reallocating would-be advertising resources to areas such as raw materials, production and the people involved in the process, Veja sought to create high quality sneakers that have a positive impact on both the environment and society at each stage of production. And with this ethos in mind, the adventure began
Next up was the Brazilian Nordeste, a poor, arid area where a small cooperative of 35 organic cotton producers worked with support from a local NGO. Grown according to agroecological principles, the production of this cotton benefits the soil rather than harming it, which conventional agriculture inherently does. Bought according to fair-trade principles where the product is paid for in advance at a price set in a three-year contract, this cotton was then woven into what would become the Veja sneaker upper.
To bring these elements together, Kopp and Morillion travelled to Porto Alegre, a modern city in Brazil with strong social rights where 82% of workers are unionised. To this day, all Veja sneakers have been made in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and workers at the Veja production sites enjoy strong worker’s rights. The finished product is then sent to Bonneuil-sur-Marne in the suburbs of Paris, where Ateliers Sans Frontieres acts as Veja’s logistics provider. Every year, this social integration non-profit helps about a hundred vulnerable individuals find work and regain social stability. With a focus on social and environmental impact projects, they are the perfect partner for Veja.
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