Veja - The Most Ethically Produced Trainers You Can Wear?

Almost three years ago, I decided to drop by Aime, a boutique on Ledbury Road, in West London's Notting Hill, to pick up a replacement A.P.C orange blossom candle.

As I was leaving the store, I noticed they had these very cool trainers in the window with the letter V emblazoned on the side. I double-checked to be sure they weren't New Balance trainers laid at a funny angle, so the N appeared as a V, but no, it was definitely a V and the tongues of the trainers had the word 'Veja' on them

Knowing full well that sisters, Vanda and Val, who own and run Aime (and now Petit Aime) have impeccable taste and set trends light years before anyone else (they were stocking Isabel Marant long before anyone else in London woke up to Marant's talents), I went home and googled Veja and discovered that Veja (aside from meaning "See" or "Look" in Portuguese) was a Paris, France based company, producing a small range of ethically produced trainers. Founded by Sébastien Kopp and Francois-Ghislain Morillion in 2004, Veja launched in 2006, their brand built on impeccable environmentally savvy credentials. 

Veja's founders

Fed up with wearing through a pair of Converse every six months, I tracked Veja trainers down to Poste for men on South Molton Street and bought my first pair: grey canvas Taua. 

The shoe itself was made from organic cotton. According to Veja's website, this is sourced from Ceara, a state in North East Brazil. Veja buy cotton from a network of 320 families, who work in organic farming. They are paid a fair price. The cotton is spun then weaved into canvas. The rubber soles are made to the same high ethical standards. Veja source rubber from rubber tappers who work in the Chico Mendes Reserve in the Amazon. A radical method is used which allows the tappers to create sheets of rubber, ready for the factory, without any industrial process. 

The trainers only cost £59 and were incredibly comfortable so I went for a second pair not long after:  a pair of brown Taua leather from Selfridge's, which were more expensive (£79 if I remember correctly) but just as comfortable. Overnight, I only owned two pairs of shoes: both made by Veja.  

Again, with the leather Taua, there was a production story: Veja only use "eco-tanned" leather from Porto Alegre, created with a vegetable extract. This method causes less pollution than traditional tanning.
Like all Veja products, the trainers were manufactured at a factory in Vale Dos Sinos, in South Brazil. There, Veja ensure workers' rights are respected, fair wages are paid and overtime is paid accordingly. An estimated 80% of the factory's worked are union represented.  
For transportation, Veja do not freight their products by air. They instead ship their products from Porto Alegre at the very South of Brazil to Le Havre in France. Quite brilliantly, the trainers are then moved from Le Havre to the Veja warehouse on the outskirts of Paris, by canal boat. There, in an office powered by green electricity, trainers are packed in beautiful recycled boxes, which can also be recycled by consumers. 
In short, when you buy a pair of Veja, there is complete  production transparency, allowing the consumer to witness the journey from design to rubber being tapped out of a tree in the Amazonian rainforest right through to a pair of trainers ending up on your feet. 
This production model, though, as Veja, admits, is tough for a business. Their "fabrication costs" are three to four times higher than other footwear producers, because of the way they source the materials that become their trainers, bags and wallets. They deal with this in their business model by having like early mentor Agnes b, a 'no advertising policy': what they save on this, they can put back into financing those eye watering production costs. 
The only thing that didn't work well for me early on with Veja were the laces, which snapped really easily. I sent Veja an email telling them and asked if they had plans to sell replacement laces on their website. A customer services rep emailed back saying things like this were teething issues for a new company and that they'd look into the matter. I was wowed when she had a courier (bicycle naturally) express two new pairs of laces to me. Talk about impeccable customer service. The laces on subsequent pairs of Vejas that I've bought, are comparatively toughened. 
Veja has been operating for six years now and today also manufactures very cute trainers for children. Among their high profile fans, they count Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marion Cotillard. 
Last week, I bought my sixth pair of Vejas (a second pair of grey canvas Taua), from Diverse Clothing on Upper Street. I do not own a car. I do not own a bicycle. I prefer to walk whenever possible and consequently give any shoes I wear an absolute pavement pounding, so in the end, yes, Vejas do wear through too. But in my opinion, there is no better trainer you can buy. They are affordable, comfortable, very cool (thanks for yet another tip off, Vanda and Val) and when you buy them, you know that you are supporting a company who are in turn supporting their suppliers who in turn are supporting communities in Brazil who need that help. When you consider all of that, it's hard not to see Veja as creators of the most ethically produced trainers you can wear. 
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