The Ethical Sneaker
Archeology informs us that shoes were invented about 40,000 years ago. The earliest discovered prototype was a sandal found in Oregon, USA and dates back to 8000 BC. The oldest leather shoe was found in Armenia, a simple construction of cowhide that dates back to 5300 BC.
As civilization developed more instances of shoes were found but documented history suggests an enduring preference for going barefoot. In fact, it wasn't until the Roman Empire that shoes evolved from a primarily functional covering for protecting the foot to an aesthetic adornment.
In the Middle Ages onward, the design of shoes evolved significantly and, from peasant to aristocrat, they became a necessity of living in a civilized world. In the 18th century footwear went from being a traditional artisanal handicraft to becoming a commercialized industry and thus marks the beginning of the mass-produced factory system that's in use until this day.
It's estimated that 20 billion shoes are produced each year, 300 million are thrown away each year, and the average mass-produced shoe takes 1000 years to degrade. That's a large carbon footprint.
Veja is a minimalist sneaker company joining the ranks of footwear brands and designers stepping up to this environmental challenge. The difference is that its social mission is not just a buzzword buried in the About Us page but deeply embedded in the brand's ethos. The French-based label produces locally in Brazil's Amazon rainforest using ethical practices from concept to distribution.
Veja sources organic cotton from hundreds of Brazilian families whose livelihood depends on their craft. The process abides by agro-ecological principles which ban chemicals and pesticides.
Their soles come from "rubber tappers", Amazonian families that live in the forests and harvest rubber from wild trees using an innovative process developed by the University of Brasilia.
They also openly admit the limitations of producing leather under fair trade principals, but maintain control over the entire supply chain to alleviate environmental harm to the best of their ability.
The Veja "trainers" are made in Brazilian factories with strict labour standards including fair wages, overtime pay, humane facility conditions, and the right to stand up for their rights.
Veja does not pay for advertising so the funds saved can be put back into their production chain allowing them to pay fair prices to the families they partner with.
They also do not hold inventory and only produce orders placed six months in advance, adapting to the availability of organic cotton which varies from season to season.
Moreover, Veja is committed to reducing CO2 by optimizing for emission reduction and energy efficiency in everything from transportation and packaging to the use of green electricity.
However, it's not just the environmental factor that put Veja on the map. They may be the most ethically produced label in the game, but for over 10 years they've also designed collections that are cool, relevant, and aesthetically pleasing – giving them street credibility and celebrity endorsements that are rapidly expanding their awareness internationally.
Quality and sustainability are not at the expense of beauty. Their minimalist sporty styles are surprisingly on-trend season after season despite having a timeless appeal. As a result they've grown organically via word of mouth – the type of honest growth which allows them to stay transparent and true to their beliefs vs. compromising their values to hit unfounded sales projections.