Ethical Footing: How one shoe is changing the world
After spending two years working on social, ecological and economic projects within South America, Africa and Asia, childhood friends Sébastien Kopp and François Morillion discovered firsthand the disconnect between the business practices of a company and the sustainable values they claim to hold. Wanting to integrate sustainable development into a business model they set out to do just that and created Veja in 2004.
Veja was founded by three main principles, using ecological materials, working under fair trade principles and respecting workers’ rights and dignity. Ten years later, the company is still guided by those same principles and have turned themselves into an innovative ethical shoe company that is leading by example. Or as François Morillion describes it “we just connect the dots between amazing projects to create a great sneaker.”
Not only has Veja been able to successfully compete in a competitive marketplace but they have done so by creating a business model that places emphasis on the greater social good. Careful consideration is given to the welfare of people and the environment through every step of the production process. From sourcing and manufacturing, right through to packaging and distribution.
HERE IS A LOOK INTO HOW THEY DO IT:
Low Stock and No Advertising
They refuse to build up stock and only produce on orders dated for the next six months in an effort to ensure stock doesn’t accumulate and materials aren’t wasted. They also refuse to spend money on advertising and instead simply rely on word of mouth which has become a powerful tool for them. Veja pays their workers and producers a higher wage which means their production costs can sometimes be three to four times higher than other footwear brands. By saving on advertising the company is able to sell its shoes at a price level matching that of its competitors.
Production takes place in Brazil, where the sneakers’ raw materials are locally sourced and high labor standards exist.
Organic cotton (that is pesticide, GMO and fertilizer free) is harvested from the north-eastern state of Ceará before being bought at a fair price from the ADEC farmers association. The cotton is then spun into canvas for the sneakers. By committing to buy the cotton from the ADEC association, Veja provides sustainable employment and enables the ADEC to pay farmers more than double the prices offered on the conventional market. Veja currently works with 350 famers, with many more seeking to join the group attracted by the stable income and fair working conditions.
In the Amazon Rainforest where wild rubber naturally grows, Veja works with a collective of rubber tappers (currently numbering around 60 families) for the wild rubber latex used in the soles of their shoes. Veja works with the communities to mould the rubber there rather than transporting it to a factory, nearly doubling the trappers income and further reducing the temptation for deforestation.
The shoes are assembled in a factory in South Brazil, where work conditions are monitored to ensure they are safe and fair. The average wage of the factory workers is higher than Brazil’s legal minimum wage for the shoe industry.
Once the shoes are assembled they are sent to France and all logistics and distribution are handled by Ateliers Sans Frontières (ASF), an NGO that aims to reintegrate socially excluded people into the workforce. Today, the partnership has employed 250 marginalized people.
Building a massive company has never been the main focus for Veja. They are more interested in establishing a new norm for business and sustainability practices. An example of this is the concept store which Sebastian and Francis opened in 2010. Centre Commercial, located in Paris, features other sustainable labels and showcases fashion with social commitments and artistic projects with environmental concerns in hopes to further connect business with sustainable development and establish a deeper understanding of awareness.
Describing themselves as a project, the company is honest about the challenges they face and the improvements that can still be made. What sets them apart is their transparency. They are honest about their limitations and the challenges that arise and are constantly on a quest to evolve.
Shop our selection of Veja shoes here.
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