5 Reasons Veja Embodies the Ideal Model for Sustainable Fashion
I first learned about the socially and environmentally responsible brand Veja through social media. I had seen other sustainable fashion bloggers create content wearing the shoes and was intrigued. I got the sense that they were doing something good, but I didn't know what exactly until I did a little research. I've since grown to really admire the brand as creators of a sustainable fashion model that can be used as a test to determine how sustainable brands actually are.
So what is this model based on? Transparency about every point in production as well as limits to design + direct trade negotiations (no middle man) + organic & naturally sourced materials + the ability to provide a consumer with OPTIONS for varying aesthetics + high quality & long wear products.
5 Reasons Veja Embodies the Ideal Model for Sustainable Fashion
1. They realized the need to reinvent the wheel and be transparent about their limits.
With most popular fashion brands (fast-fashion brands in particular), you can't trace where a product came from, who made it, or even what exactly it was made of. The goal is to make a product for as little as possible, with a short wear life, to encourage people to buy more and buy often.
Veja recreated the sneaker design from scratch, looking at every step in the production process and reshaping it to benefit the environment and local communities. They looked at where necessary materials were being sourced and produced as well as the impact trade had on these areas. They traveled to Brazil, met the seringueros that harvested rubber from the amazon rainforest, learned about the social conflicts in the region and thought deeply about how they could make a difference to better the forest and the lives of the people who live there.
For Veja, making a difference meant producing smaller quantities of product, negotiating product contracts directly with farmers, partnering with like-minded entities for project funding and ultimately, understanding the limits of creating a marketable sustainable product.
Veja is completely transparent about the 'flaws' in sustainable design and production.
To stand the test of time, requires compromises. For example, sustainable products usually tick off a standard set of products. One major points of sustainable design are that an item must be 'entirely' made of natural materials. A bonus, but highly preferable criterion is that the product is also Fair Trade Certified. It's a high bar to hit and few mainstream products and companies can do so. Veja exposes the difficulties of meeting the high standards that comes with sustainable fashion branding.
Veja uses conventional dyes that won't fade as quickly as natural dyes. They follow fair trade practice but did not renew their formal fair trade certification. Why? Costs of certification were more than 30% the cost of producing the product. Certification just isn't suited to smaller producers. Here we see Veja choosing what's practical in relation to how their product will be used. They're essentially creating a product that people will use everyday. Not only that, a product that will see a lot of wear and therefore need to withstand excessive use. They engage in fair trade, but are not a member of the official federation, but does that mean they are less valuable to us? I don't necessarily think so. The more we learn, the more we understand the nuances of sustainable fashion and what it takes to keep a sustainable, ethical brand going. It's important to take these steps to acknowledge the holes in the process. Only then can we work towards setting more realistic standards and thus encouraging brands to step into the sustainable fashion realm.
Did I already mention sustainable fashion was complicated to explain? Still worth it though.
2. They cut out the middle man.
One common practice among sustainable fashion brands is cutting out the middle man. Negotiating directly with farmers that source Veja's rubber and cotton, enables Veja to offer families more money upfront. Contracts are set to one year, which is important because it means that as the markets change, farmers are not locked into one rate. They have the ability to renegotiate depending on their needs. Harvests are also pre-financed up to 40%, which means farmers get an advance on payment to keep them going until they are able to sell a product.
By the way, Veja has made their cotton and rubber producer contracts available on their website if you'd like to take a read.
3. They use organic, naturally sourced materials.
Veja uses organic cotton, harvested from local producers in Taua & the Chinca Valley in Brazil. The raw cotton is spun into yarn in Americana, woven into canvas in Jundiai, and finally fashioned into sneaker uppers in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Cotton used in veja's shoes is referred to as agro-ecological, which means, it was farmed using a mixture of conventional agricultural methods/systems with local, indigenous knowledge and systems.
In my opinion, it's difficult to call agricultural practices sustainable without input from local communities that know the land and have been farming it for generations. For example, Veja purchases wild rubber from local seringueros that live in the jungle where the rubber is harvested and therefore know the routes and best trees to collect rubber from. Purchasing from locals that know the forest also means the trees are given time to regenerate because the people that are harvesting the natural resource, do so with extra care for their home, environment, and livelihood.
Also, sidenote: Who didn't know rubber came from a tree?? I'll be the first to say, I didn't even think about it. I always just assumed rubber was artificially made. The amazon is the only place where rubber trees grow in the wild. Seringueros rubber tab the trees to get liquid rubber which is then turned into rubber sheets! Yes - just like tapping a tree for maple syrup!
4. They give the consumer options with a wide range of styles to choose from.
Many people have shared with me that they don't consider sustainable fashion because of a lack of options. With Veja, there's something for everyone. While they only produce small quantities of each shoe style, the styles are wide ranging.
There's the classic converse style, the ever nostalgic velcro strap sneaker, the trendy 'unicorn' metallic shoe, the professional and clean suede, preppy and feminine florals, urban high tops, and then the mashup! Nostalgic meets modern - velcro strap with a unicorn finish. I tell ya guys, VEJA is a genius brand. They're smart and they're GOOD and they've been around. In total there are 19 styles - 80 designs were released in the 2018 collection.
5. The shoes are up to par with any other reputable, main stream sneaker brand.
Now, I'm not an athletic person, which has often translated into me not having that many sneakers since I don't run or play sports as a hobby. However, I did buy a pair of hot pink Nikes when customizing your sneakers became a thing. Veja sneakers are comparable if not better. They have a comfortable fit with cushioned soles and arch support. My style is equipped with studs/cleats on the bottom which allow for better traction. They're light and easy to commute around the city in. Most importantly, versatile. I chose a pair that I know could go with lots of different outfit choices. I style my Vejas with raw hemmed jeans, rompers, shorts and dresses. (And I'm not done yet.)
SIZE and FIT info
*** I am normally a size 6.5 but ordered a size 7 in this pair. They fit perfectly.
*** I ordered my pair off of amourvert.com which is an online retailer of sustainable brands.
*** They offer arch support and are good for long days of walking.