French footwear brand Veja may have just landed on your radar, but their story goes back to the early aughts. Paris-based Veja was founded in 2004 and launched its first sneaker in 2005.
The brand was immediately picked up by Parisian department stores, and now Veja is sold in 50 countries, producing 2 million shoes per year. Major retail partners include Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Zappos, Net-A-Porter and more.
Since its debut, fans of the V-logo brand have included Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle, Kourtney Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski — even though the company hasn’t spent a single dollar on advertising or celebrity gifting since its inception.
In 2018, the brand saw a major boost after Markle wore a pair of the low-top trainers for an Invictus Games sailing event with Prince Harry. “It was a funny moment, because when we saw the photo, the whole Veja team mocked us because we didn’t know who Meghan was,” founders Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion told FN at the time. “We’re not very focused on celebrities, but once we figured out who Meghan is and what she represents, we thought it was super cool.”
When images of Markle in the V-10 leather trainers emerged, the label’s Instagram “broke down,” receiving thousands of likes and comments, according to the company. That same year, Veja was the No.1 Instagram brand, topping Lyst’s “Insta Brand We Want to Wear” category of its Year in Fashion report for 2018. Searches for the sneaker label increased 113% year over year.
Since then, Veja has only continued to grow in popularity as sustainability increasingly becomes a key component for consumers looking to connect with brands. From the get-go, ethical sourcing, transparency and social responsibility has been at the forefront for the founders. “Seventy percent of the cost of a normal big sneaker brand is related to advertising. So, eliminating ads, marketing costs, doing away with brand ambassadors and billboards means we can invest in our employees, our materials, our factories and, therefore, our planet. It means we can focus on the production chain and how to change it,” Kopp and Morillion explained.
Veja works closely with cooperatives of small producers in Brazil under fair trade practices, endeavoring to support local communities while using upcycled and sustainably-produced materials, such as organic cotton and wild rubber.
The brand is also upping its ante on the sustainability front. In June 2020, the company launched the Darwin project to minimize waste and support the circular economy with a facility in France that will clean and repair worn pairs of sneakers, and collect and recycle those that have been worn beyond help.
“Because now we produce 2 million pairs of shoes per year, and knowing that there are 2 million pairs that are going to be not usable [in the future] is a lot. So let’s attack the issue and let’s solve the issue as much as we can,” Kopp told FN about the Darwin Project. “Repairing is already something really important. It’s one step before recycling, but I think it has been misjudged by a lot of brands. It’s very essential.”
In terms of product, Veja first launched with the Volley sneaker made out of canvas from organic cotton. Veja later introduced chrome-free leather, which comes from tanneries audited and certified Gold by the Leather Working Group. Meanwhile, 1 out of 3 Veja models are 100% vegan.
Current popular styles include the Campo, V-12 and V-10 sneakers, which all include the signature V-logo on the midsole. Veja also launched its running category in 2019, with the debut of Veja’s first post-petroleum running shoe, the Condor. In February, Veja updated its sustainable Condor performance running shoe for the first time with the Condor 2. Most recently, the brand launched the Marlin in April. Like the rest of the collection, the style is made in Brazil and follows its sustainable practices being made with 62% bio-based and recycled materials. The performance shoe features a 65% bio-based rubber outsole made from Amazonian rubber and rice waste; a knitted upper and lining from 100% recycled plastic bottles; and a 60% sugar cane midsole.
To coincide with Veja’s new running sneaker, the company teamed up with non-profit A Second U Foundation for a New York-based running club in May. A Second U Foundation is an organization that that gives formerly incarcerated people a second chance by training them for jobs in the fitness industry so they aren’t defined by their sentence or their charge. Their trainers will lead the Veja-sponsored running club. The club is free of charge for participants.
This is just one aspect of Veja’s work with various non-profits. The brand has promoted community integration by entrusting its logistics to Ateliers Sans Frontières — a non-profit that helps vulnerable individuals find jobs and regain social stability — for the last 15 years. Veja now works with Log-in’s, which provides differently-abled people with guidance to place and keep them in stable occupations.
Outside of eco-friendly product, what is setting Veja apart in the shoe industry is its transparency. The brand calculated its CO2 emissions, starting with the raw materials, accounting for transportation, the sneaker factories and transportation for shipping, for the first time in 2019 and has since released its carbon footprint for 2020.
“The big difference between the official report and the usual reports of other companies is we consider everything — from the cows part of the cattle farming to our retailers’ [CO2 emissions]. If you put the responsibility on somebody else, you don’t change,” said Kopp on its report findings. “So with shipping, to have Veja faster, some retailers were buying directly in Brazil and sending them by plane. That made up approximately 10% by air freight. Usually, we produce and we ship the goods by boat to our retailers. We delivered this information and those partners stopped right away. It was one email.”
Veja officially ships its product 100% by boat.