Creating sneakers with sole at VEJA
Take a look inside today’s shoe industry and it’s hard to sidestep the mountain of waste it’s creating. An estimated 20 billion pairs of shoes are produced annually, with roughly 300 million pairs ending up in landfill. What’s more, conservative estimates suggest the average pair takes more than 50 years to fully decompose. Global production, long distance transport, and the use of toxic chemicals make today’s fast fashion model ripe for circular innovations.
One company bucking the trend is VEJA. Hailing from France, VEJA is a sneaker, bag and accessory brand aiming to break the take-make-waste model by creating stunningly hip sneakers for the fashion-focused. The company strives for transparency across all areas of its business, making it easy to get a peek at what a sustainable shoe looks like. Spoiler alert: it isn’t your typical cork bottomed sandal.
We are living in a material world
According to recent research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing, representing a loss of more than USD 100 billion worth of materials each year. To combat this, VEJA uses several recycled materials in its manufacturing and production. This includes cotton thrown out by the fashion industry, recycled jute and recycled polyester. As the head of communications at VEJA, Guillaume Dovale, explains, “our recycled materials give a second life to domestic waste and helps us create various fabrics depending on their unique properties and the season we are in.”
Recycled materials, along with organic cotton and wild rubber are used because they have less of an impact on the environment and the people working with them. Dovale goes on to highlight, “making organic and agroecological cotton is not only better for the soil, it’s better for farmers health because we don’t use any pesticides or fertilizers during the process.”
“It’s the same for wild rubber. We invented a process that helps farmers transform wild rubber from the Amazonian Forest into rubber sheets without any industrial intermediary, and the rubber is purer and more elastic thanks to the technique. Farmers also make decent revenue from the forest, add value to it and help protect against deforestation.”
VEJA doesn’t stop at employing biological materials in its supply chain, the company proudly create new textiles too. This includes their signature B-mesh, or bottle mesh, a fabric made from 100 per cent recycled polyethylene terephthalate or P.E.T.. The B-mesh fabric is made in Santo Andre, Brazil from recycled plastic bottles that are collected, sorted and transformed into plastic flakes. The flakes are then turned into polyester fiber. It takes three plastic bottles to make a pair of VEJA sneakers. The result is a light, breathable and waterproof trainer.
No tip toeing around
Beyond materials, VEJA’s business model runs on a six-month production cycle to cut out surplus. VEJA presents its collection in advance to stockists who then place their orders before production starts. In doing so, the company can produce precisely what it sells.
VEJA has also disrupted the traditional fashion business model by cutting out 100% of its marketing budget. Dovale explains,
“when you buy a pair of sneakers today, 70% of its costs is from advertising and marketing. We decided if we reallocated all those costs to production and people, we could deconstruct the sneaker and have a positive impact on every step of the chain. All while selling at the same price as other brands.”
While VEJA remains a small player in the global shoe business, it certainly is a pioneer. If more companies followed VEJA’s lead, not only would it be a boon for sustainability, but for fashion itself. While perhaps a bit modest, Dovale, points out “I don’t know if we lead the industry in any particular area, but we try hard to make concrete and real projects that we would like to see in the world.”
It's one small step for VEJA and one giant leap for the footwear industry.