VEJA is a B Corp certified French sneaker brand known for its strong message of sustainability. VEJA means “look” in Portuguese; this underlies their ethos of transparency in everything they do. VEJA has a very close bond with Brazil. The majority of their production occurs there and they are deeply invested in Amazon protection. VEJA made waves in the early 2000s as they strayed from conventional marketing. They completely abandoned, and continue to abandon, advertising in order to invest more money into manufacturing. This temporarily sacrificed sales, but ensured workplace rights and enabled the use sustainable materials. As time passed, word got out about a sustainable sneaker brand, and VEJA gained traction in the global market. Even though their production cost is about five times the average for a large sneaker company, the sale price is on par with competitors. Because of this, the company is wildly popular in its home country of France and across the world!
VEJA prides itself on its raw materials. Some of the main constituents of their sneakers are organic and recycled cotton, chrome-free leather, sustainably sourced rubber, and a multitude of innovative materials. For example, VEJA has developed a few hybrid materials made of recycled products. B-mesh is a material made of 100% recycled polyester from plastic bottles. On average, 3 bottles can make a sneaker. Hexamesh, a Brazilian-made product, is 70% organic cotton and 30% recycled bottles. J-mesh is a blend of jute, recycled cotton, and recycled burlap. This is used for shoes aimed to keep feet warm and cozy. VEJA claims to be working towards using fully vegan leather, but the costs are too high for the time being. Some may say they should use mainstream vegan leather, however, it is plastic-based and may do more harm than good. Currently, VEJA uses a blend of regular leather and CWL, a bio-sourced vegan leather alternative, to make their shoes. This Italian-based alternative is 63% bio-based and made from cotton fabric covered by a corn-based coating. The regular leather is tanned without chromium, heavy metals, or dangerous acids. These tanneries are audited by the Leather Working Group, an organization dedicated to mitigating the environmental effects of leather production. Prior to 2015, VEJA solely used vegetable tanning, but high costs prevented them from continuing this practice. In addition to typical cowhide leather, VEJA has used tilapia leather to make sneakers. They used discarded tilapia skins to make shoes, a waste-reducing practice. PVC is banned from the brand due to its toxic manufacturing process. One drawback of VEJA’s shoe “ingredients”, however, is the use of inorganic dyes. The dyes do meet the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) standards set by the EU, in any case.
VEJA’s website has extensive pages detailing their material harvesting practices. Here, I will attempt to summarize them. In terms of the organic cotton, it is harvested in fields growing corn, sesame, or beans. This enriches the soil and allows producers to have food independence, as opposed to massive monoculture farms that typically grow cotton. 97% of their emissions from raw materials are due to leather. 70% of this occurs as a by-product of cattle digestion processes, and the remaining leather emissions come from production, tanning, and transportation. The leather comes from areas with no deforestation and the tanning process reduces water usage by 40% and salt by 80%. After this process, the water is still recyclable. Furthermore, the cattle are raised for their meat, meaning the leather is a byproduct and doesn’t kill more cows. Growing, collecting, and transforming their cotton accounts for 1% of their raw materials emissions; these are the main materials of their sneakers. All Brazilian organic cotton is certified by VEJA, European regulations, and the Brazilian Participatory Guarantee System. Their cotton sourced in Peru is grown with water from Andean glaciers, handpicked, and grown without chemical fertilizers or toxic pesticides. It is certified organic by GOTS, USDA, and European regulations. Their ethos regarding cotton growth is about regenerative agriculture: VEJA wants to improve soil quality, enhance biodiversity, sequester atmospheric carbon, and optimize the water cycle. Furthermore, VEJA’s shoeboxes consist of 60% recycled cardboard and 40% virgin FSC certified materials. There are also 12 different sizes of shoe boxes to avoid overconsumption of resources, and 80% of VEJA’s e-shop packages are recycled plastic.
In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, VEJA reduced their scope 1 emissions from 10.65 tCO2e in 2019 to 6.63 tCO2e in 2020. Scope 1 is related to the company’s direct impact on the environment. This would be emissions from company vehicles and other such factors. Their scope 2 emissions, related to energy used in electricity and heating VEJA facilities, reduced from 38.34 tCO2e in 2019 to 7.73 tCO2e in 2020. Their scope 3 figure, related to emissions from their suppliers and partners, was 36.818 tCO2e in 2019, and the figure wasn’t published in 2020. This is justified by the company because the figures aren’t “theirs”, but leaves consumers missing critical information. VEJA is dedicated to continuing to reduce emissions. For example, they want to reduce the presence of leather in their models, ban the use of airfreight to ship pairs from Brazil to retailers (reducing emissions by 92%), and recycle more shoes. This year, they supplied their new store in the United States with 100% renewable wind energy and used 95% renewable energy for their facilities in Paris.
VEJA has a plethora of schemes and systems that directly benefit local Brazilian and Peruvian material producers. Amazonian rubber tappers, known as seringueiros, are paid more to tap rubber than to raise cattle, resulting in less deforestation and increased quality of life. Of course, this tapping process does minimal damage to the forest. As such, Amazonian rubber emits 27% less emissions than conventional synthetic rubber. VEJA buys the rubber at twice the market price and purchases it from 620 families across Brazil. In terms of cotton, VEJA sources it from 125 families in Brazil and 200 in Peru. The company pays up to 50% in advance, meaning farmers plant cotton knowing how much they will make per kilo. The price covers agro-ecological cotton costs and VEJA claims it allows producers to earn a decent income. In 2020, VEJA signed a contract to buy cotton for twice the average market price per kilo. VEJA organizes this system with ADEC, an organization of cotton-producing families. This cuts out the middleman, increasing producer income. Farmers are also paid a R$2 premium per kilo when they farm according to agroecology principles. VEJA also works with the NGOs ESPLAR and Diaconia to support cotton producers. These organizations provide technical support to farmers and instruct them on price negotiation. VEJA has one factory in southern Brazil. The workers have considerable rights, such as 4 weeks of paid vacation, scheduled start and end times, weekends off, paid overtime, pensions, and bonuses. 80% of them are unionized, and no worker lives more than 47 kilometers away. Furthermore, VEJA works with Ateliers Sans Frontières (ASF) in warehouses in France to support financially unstable individuals looking for employment. They provide temporary employment to allow them to regain their footing before finding employment in relevant sectors. These employees are responsible for logistical work in French warehouses. 62% of the staff hadn’t worked in two years. As of 2020, VEJA has 193 permanent employees, and 4 out of 5 of the highest earners in the company are women. Furthermore, there were no complaints from any workers in 2020. Founders Sebastien Kopp and Francois-Ghislain Morillion are the sole shareholders of VEJA; they believe that introducing external shareholders can compromise company integrity. While this sentiment makes sense, perhaps they should introduce a board of high-level employees to introduce more perspectives at the executive level.