Veja was founded in 2003 and began life as a small French startup, with a strong social conscience and big plans to change the sneaker industry. Fast forward almost two decades, and Veja has amassed a cult following and is one of the world’s most in-demand footwear brands. We caught up with co-founder Sébastien Kopp to find out more about Veja’s beginnings, his thoughts on sustainable production and what eco-friendly innovation he’s embracing in upcoming collections.

Hi Sébastien, nice to meet you! Tell us, how did you and your business partner François-Ghislain Morillion first get into the sneaker industry?

Ghislain and I met when we were 14 years old. We later studied economics and started to work in New York and DC straight after our degrees. After a few months working in banks, we decided that was not the life we wanted. We created an NGO and worked all around the world – we travelled together for one year, going out on the field to study 70 projects. We went to China, Brazil, India, Bolivia, Vietnam, Australia – analysing projects and improving them to reduce pollution and to improve the social conditions of the local population.

On the field, we saw that the actions of many companies did not follow their speeches – the companies who sent us were not ready to act. In 2003 we were in China doing a social audit for a big fashion brand and realised that globalisation had gone wrong. That the working conditions were not good at all – and that these were the workers who were making the very T-shirts we were wearing. It was then, aged 25, we decided to create a company that would be based on action, not speeches. Veja was born.


What steps do you take to ensure the brand is adhering to sustainable and environmentally friendly production practices?

Veja’s secret to transparency is to go out into the field – to know what we’re talking about. Today, the young generation believes you can set up a project or brand sitting behind a computer. We think this is a big mistake. To meet the people that are making your clothes or shoes, to visit the factories, to go to the organic cotton fields – those are the most inspiring moments for us. It keeps you in reality.


How do you source your materials?

Our two primary materials are Amazonian rubber and agro-ecological cotton. Since 2004, we’ve bought more than 400 tons of organic cotton – purchased directly from Brazilian cooperatives. This organic and fair-trade cotton is used to create the canvas and the lining of our sneakers. For the past three years, we’ve also been buying organic cotton from Peru via Bergman Riviera, a company that started in 1986 as a pioneer in organic agriculture. Today, the company works with 160 local families. The Peruvian cotton we source is GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified, and the Brazilian cotton is IBD certified.

Rubber is used on the sole of every sneaker. We buy rubber from the Amazon forest, directly from rubber tapper communities (called seringueiros) and pay a fair price. The Amazon is the only place on Earth where rubber trees grow in the wild. In the Brazilian state of Acre, the seringueiros harvest the rubber used in Veja soles – it helps to fight deforestation as the seringueiros prefer to work for us than to cut trees to raise cattle.

How do you source your materials?

Our two primary materials are Amazonian rubber and agro-ecological cotton. Since 2004, we’ve bought more than 400 tons of organic cotton – purchased directly from Brazilian cooperatives. This organic and fair-trade cotton is used to create the canvas and the lining of our sneakers. For the past three years, we’ve also been buying organic cotton from Peru via Bergman Riviera, a company that started in 1986 as a pioneer in organic agriculture. Today, the company works with 160 local families. The Peruvian cotton we source is GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified, and the Brazilian cotton is IBD certified.

Rubber is used on the sole of every sneaker. We buy rubber from the Amazon forest, directly from rubber tapper communities (called seringueiros) and pay a fair price. The Amazon is the only place on Earth where rubber trees grow in the wild. In the Brazilian state of Acre, the seringueiros harvest the rubber used in Veja soles – it helps to fight deforestation as the seringueiros prefer to work for us than to cut trees to raise cattle.


Can you tell us about Veja’s non-leather sneakers and how they’re made?

We’ve been looking for smart alternatives to leather for years. In 2014, we started a research and development program to increase our eco-friendly materials base. We visited dozens of innovative suppliers around the world, attended conferences, contracted a biologist, did many tests, tried many fabrics. All with a simple but rather ambitious objective: to offer a bio-based alternative to leather. Something that feels great and is durable.

Our goal was to find an alternative but without using plastic, like the majority of ‘vegan’ leathers on the market are already doing. Replacing leather with plastic didn’t sound like a good solution to us. We dove into the world of bio-based polymers, and this search took us to Italy, where we met a supplier to develop C.W.L – a cotton canvas waxed with a compound made from corn waste. For our next collection we’ve improved this material, so stay tuned!

Can you tell us about Veja’s non-leather sneakers and how they’re made?

We’ve been looking for smart alternatives to leather for years. In 2014, we started a research and development program to increase our eco-friendly materials base. We visited dozens of innovative suppliers around the world, attended conferences, contracted a biologist, did many tests, tried many fabrics. All with a simple but rather ambitious objective: to offer a bio-based alternative to leather. Something that feels great and is durable.

Our goal was to find an alternative but without using plastic, like the majority of ‘vegan’ leathers on the market are already doing. Replacing leather with plastic didn’t sound like a good solution to us. We dove into the world of bio-based polymers, and this search took us to Italy, where we met a supplier to develop C.W.L – a cotton canvas waxed with a compound made from corn waste. For our next collection we’ve improved this material, so stay tuned!


Sustainability aside, what do you take into consideration when designing a new sneaker?

For us, the design of our sneakers is as important as the way we make them. Veja is about simplifying – designing sneakers we can wear every day. We love minimalism and are inspired by workwear, military shoes and trail shoes.

What’s your favourite Veja style to wear?

The older I get, the less I have in my wardrobe. And I feel it’s a kind of wisdom and liberation. I still have a lot of Veja, though. All the first prototypes… and the new ones. I’m one of the testers of the latest models before they are released!

Where do you hope to see the brand in five years?

We don’t have plans. We do what we like to do. We always dive into unknown fields. For example, our next project is one piece of the puzzle that was missing: we are starting to work on recycling. We’ve launched a test hub in Bordeaux (south of France) to clean, repair and recycle sneakers. The project is in its beginnings and will be improved during the next months. We always start from zero – this is the best way to learn everything. But a vision, we don’t have one. We prefer to speak about what we have already done.


What are you most proud of?

After over 15 years of Veja, we are very proud of the team we’ve built. Seeing individuals elevate themselves day after day, year after year is one of the most beautiful things in this project. We are also proud to respect our word and to be one of the most transparent brands in the world. We are proud to have started with nothing – no investors – and to now lead a 180-person team, trying to offer them the company we would have dreamt to work for.

What are you most proud of?

After over 15 years of Veja, we are very proud of the team we’ve built. Seeing individuals elevate themselves day after day, year after year is one of the most beautiful things in this project. We are also proud to respect our word and to be one of the most transparent brands in the world. We are proud to have started with nothing – no investors – and to now lead a 180-person team, trying to offer them the company we would have dreamt to work for.

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