Whenever a celebrity posts an Instagram of their “favorite shoe,” “go-to handbag” or “best lipstick”, the assumption is that they’re being paid. But when they include a hashtag that reads #ihavenothingtodowiththisbrandthisisnotpublicitythisisjustlove, you can be pretty sure that it’s a wholesome endorsement for a good to the core brand.
Such was the case nine weeks ago when Marion Cotillard snapped a pic of a worn pair of Veja sneakers. With laces askew and a cheery pinapple print emblazoned up and down the high-top silhouette, the French actress shared that she’s had this pair for a decade, which is just as long as the brand has been around.
The French starlet doesn’t just love the brand for their pared back design and streamlined silhouettes, but also because they have a sustainable component. Veja shoes are produced solely in Brazil, from materials which are native to the country. Since Veja planted their roots there 10 years, ago, the co-founding duo of Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion have watched the surrounding areas flourish as their own brand has grown.
The Observer emailed Mr. Kopp to learn more about this brand, which was born in France, but produced entirely in Brazil.
Tell us the founding story of Veja. At 24-years-old, we were two best friends who quit their finance jobs to work for large companies on sustainable development. We worked all over the world — in South Africa, China, Bolivia, Brazil, India, etc. — on a variety of projects, but didn’t feel satisfied. So we set out to create something that would integrate social development and environmentalism directly into its business model.
At 25-years-old we launched Veja, a sneaker that would respect humans and the environment throughout production. From the raw materials we use to production and logistics, VEJA has a positive impact.
How many shoe styles did you start with? We started with the Volley model in 2005. It was a huge success: an organic cotton canvas shoe that was always out of stock. Since then, Veja has grown and we now have roughly 15 models available worldwide.
Why is it important for your shoes to be produced in Brazil? We chose Brazil because of its strict work regulations and powerful unions. It also has the two raw materials we needed: organic cotton and wild rubber from the Amazon forest.
How is that production eco-friendly? We use eco-friendly materials like organic cotton and all our sneakers have a minimum of 40 percent wild rubber in their soles. A big innovation in 2015 was the introduction of B-mesh, a mesh material made out of 100 percent used and recycled plastic bottles.
How does Veja’s Brazilian production help the economy there? They are helping themselves. When we started production in Brazil there were 30 organic cotton producers, now there are 350 organic cotton producers in the Northeast region. We do take steps to ensure the community prospers [through] pre-financing agricultural harvests and working within fair-trade guidelines. We also work with more than a 100 seringueiros, the guardians of the Amazon.
What’s the biggest brand expansion this year? Our US launch! We’re sold at 30 handpicked shops across the across New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, etc. Over the years there has been a lot of demand and we’re excited to finally be reaching this market.
What are some of the stores Veja is carried in? In New York, Vejas are available at Anthom, Dover Street Market and Kith. Online Veja is at Zady, an online shop curating eco-friendly and fair-trade projects, and Need Supply. Check out our website for a more complete list of retailers.
What do you think about your greatest supporter, Marion Cotillard? A great actress and a great women, she has been a supporter since the beginning and is very involved in environmentalism and activism (she’s working with Greenpeace in France). I believe her favorites are the high tops.
Who are some other celebrity fans of Veja? They are many! We even did a collaboration with the super model Lily Cole, who went into the Amazonia to see our work. In NYC, the street artist JR and his crew are wearing them.