In 2005, after a personal breakup with the Wall Street lifestyle followed by a worldwide hunt for new ideas and innovative production systems, French entrepreneurs François Ghislain Morillion and Sébastian Kopp launched Veja Shoes: a brand designed in Paris, made in Brazil.
Because of the variety of ecosystems in Brazil (and some other reasons), it is amazingly possible to keep a whole supply chain in the same territory – what could be better for genuine sustainable development? Veja uses organic cotton from Ceará state, wild rubber from Acre and the manufacturing is in Rio Grande do Sul.
The farmers and producers are fairly remunerated and CO2 reduction is one of the priorities: all Veja trainers are transported by boat from Porto Alegre (Brazil) to Le Havre (France). Upon arrival in Le Havre, the trainers travel in barges along the canals to the Parisian suburbs. The packaging is made of recycled and recyclable cardboard and the size of the shoe-box was reduced in 2002 to optimize efficiency. In the headquarters, Veja uses energy from ENERCOOP (a cooperative of green electricity) instead of EDF (the French national nuclear energy supplier).
And there is more: The leather is tanned with vegetable extracts such as Acacia, and in some models a leather-plastic hybrid B-Mesh is used, a material made from recycled plastic bottles. Check it out on their website: everything is explained there. You can also follow one of the owners’ Instagram accounts (@fgmorillion or @Sebastien_Kopp) and easily see who made your shoes. All the travels to Amazonia, all the workers, all the day to day life is there.
Veja doesn't do advertisement – it is maths, baby: the money that would be used to create campaigns pays the producers better instead. And, although The New York Times choose a weird title to present the brand [“Paris’s Favorite Sneaker Brand (That You Haven’t Heard About)” – Really, NYT? Gosh, what you are hearing about?] the actresses Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg and model Lily Cole, who made a capsule-collection with them, are customers.
Before going to the launch of Bold, a new sneaker created in partnership with the Brazilian designer Alexandre Herchcovitch, in São Paulo, François Ghislain Morillion talked to me by email about research, the German market and the future. Have a look – or Veja!
French entrepreneurs François Ghislain Morillion and Sébastian Kopp
After these ten years of Veja Shoes, what is the first word that comes to your mind that could explain all the work and challenges faced during this period? Why?
TRANSPARENCY. This is the key word of Veja. “Veja” means “look” in Portuguese. What we always wanted is to show that it is possible to do great products with a positive impact. We show a possible way.
Which are the main differences between European and no-European market when you work with a brand with social and ecological responsibilities?
The European market was the first to respond positively to our brand. The ecological and social conscience has grown in Europe in the last decades, but I’d say that the phenomenon is global now. We have received a lot of demands from the US lately. Things are changing on a global level. The internet has changed the rules of transparency. Anybody can post anything on the behavior of any company in the world. The people are empowered by the internet, and don’t buy anymore any greenwashing ad. Great times ahead!
Since the beginning of this year, Veja is using Liquid Rubber Technology, developed by Prof. Floriano Pastore (University of Brasília) for the soles. How do you see the relevance of the fashion industry talking to university researchers?
The discovery of the Liquid Rubber Technology was fantastic for Veja. This technology, developed by Pastore, permits to produce a high quality-rubber inside the Amazon rainforest, cutting all the industrial middlemen. Prof Pastore is a visionary; all his research is directed to improve the life of those who live from the forest, in the forest. This is a new approach to environmental issues that starts with economic and social benefits. His wonderful project was lacking output for its rubber, as many great projects that exist but have no market. Veja is a bridge between great social projects to fashion consumers through design.
Nowadays, I see much more Veja on the streets in Berlin than two years ago. Is this increase a fact or my impression?
Hell yes, we’re growing in Germany, and Berlin has always been very keen on Veja! This is actually our second biggest market after France: 10.000 pairs sold last year in the country. In 2015, we have put Veja on the feet of 120.000 people around the world.
What are the next steps?
We are working to improve our products on both social and environmental issues, but we never talk before we launch something. It is too easy to make promises. We prefer to talk about our achievements! Our next launch is a collaboration with French Actress and director Melanie Laurent, who just directed “Demain”, a movie on positive environmental projects.
PS: for copyright reasons, in Brazil Veja is called Vert.