With new styles for autumn 18, Parisian trainer brand Veja is satisfying ethical consumers’ desire for stylish sneakers
Sneakers are big business. But in a sector dominated by billion-dollar brands and million-dollar marketing budgets, making an impact can seem impossible. Parisian brand Veja, however, is breaking the mould and has carved itself a niche in the footwear market.
Founded by Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion in 2004, Veja’s mission statement is to fuse strong sustainable credentials with stylish design. The pair’s men’s, women’s and children’s shoes are made from sustainable materials ethically sourced from producers in Brazil.
“Compared with the [costs of] raw materials and production, sneaker [brands] concentrate a lot of the final price on marketing and advertising costs,” explains Morillion. “Our idea was to take down these marketing costs and put them back into the product, investing in fair trade and organic materials.
“We deconstructed the sneaker supply chain to rethink each step of the process.”
Veja uses three core materials: wild rubber, which is bought directly from Amazonian rubber tappers; B-Mesh, made from recycled bottles; and agro-ecological cotton, “which helps the [cotton] field to be more productive, without any chemical use and reducing the amount of water”, Morillion says.
Aside from the brand’s ethical supply chain, the simple, retro cool of its designs are a hit with buyers and consumers alike. Veja’s classic white trainer – its most popular style – epitomises what Morillion describes as “timeless sneakers that people can wear every day”. Wholesale prices range from £29 for a vegan canvas lace-up to £62 for a leather high-top with wool lining.
“[Veja’s] ecological and Fairtrade practices appealed to us firstly, however the strong design and quality really sell the product,” explains Zoie Walker, director of stockist 32 The Guild in Northampton, Drapers Lifestyle Independent of the Year 2017. “The clean style and lines of the sneakers really appeal to our customer. We started with two Veja styles and now stock at least 10 at any one time.”
Almost 14 years on from launch, Veja now has 1,500 points of sale across 45 countries. It counts Matchesfashion, Selfridges and numerous Independents among its 50-plus stockists. It was named Niche Brand of the Year at the Drapers Independents Awards 2016, and is nominated for the Sports Fashion Footwear Brand of the Year at the Drapers Footwear Awards 2018.
For autumn 18 Veja is launching a new model: the Roraima – named after Brazil’s highest mountain – which Morillion describes as having “a hiking touch”. It joins 10 existing styles, including the classic leather trainer, chunky lace-up Esplar and sporty V-10 designs.
A collaboration with Irish illustrator Oliver Jeffers is also set to launch for autumn 18 – and follows partnerships with Madewell, Parisian “curiosities” store Deyrolle and rollerskate brand Flaneurz.
“Veja is one of those vary rare instances when the product design, price, brand imagery, communications, brand values, brand story and distribution strategy are all firing at the same time,” says Ben Shelton, co-owner of Rolling People Showroom, which represents Veja in the UK. “The consumer now seems to care about the environmental impact of the product they’re buying, which was the final star that needed to align to create this situation.
“I think it’s refreshing and unique to see a brand that stands by its beliefs ahead of commercial returns and wants to enrich the lives of everyone who touches the product.”
Kopp and Morillion’s priority is to maintain and improve their ethical ethos, so the duo are cautious about rapid expansion.
“Our growth as a brand has to be organic, so that the supply of materials can grow at the same pace,” says Kopp. “We still have a great growth, but keep in mind that we have to grow slowly because we depend on our producers.”
Last month the website was upgraded to offer complete traceability.
“People can find contracts with producers, how many tons of cotton we bought and how much we paid them, the salaries of the workers, of Sébastien and I, the chemicals tests and more,” explains Morillion.
As consumer conscience focuses ever more on sustainability as well as style, Veja seems well positioned to satisfy that demand.
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