WORDS BY STEPHEN YU
Founded in 2005, Paris-based footwear brand Veja (pronounced /ˈve.ʒa/ or ‘vay-ja’ rhymes with ‘déjà’ as in ‘déjà vu’) has been slowly carving out a niche in the sustainable footwear market. Who knew that a small Parisian footwear brand could affect global change? Founders Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion, that’s who.
After leaving their well-paid jobs in finance to form an NGO that investigated corporate sustainability programs, the co-founders were disappointed to find that most businesses were not practicing what they preached. It was at this moment, Kopp and Morillion decided that they could make a difference. With just €5,000 and buckets of self-belief, our world-changing duo decided to use the trainer as their vehicle of change, citing it as 'the most symbolic object of our generation' culturally, but also one that encapsulated unsustainable practices in production, distribution and usage.
Their goal? As designers, it was to create timeless trainers that stood the test of time. After all, there’s nothing more sustainable than something that never goes out of fashion. But as businessmen, it was to eliminate the 70% of business costs that go into marketing and advertising, so they could produce a product that paid respect to both the people that made it and the environment, without breaking the bank. And so, Veja was born.
By pumping that 70% back into production it has enabled Veja to source the finest raw materials, whether that’s organic cotton from Brazil or Peru, or sustainable wild rubber from the Amazonian rainforest. Not only this, it allows the brand to buy directly from farmers and producers at a fixed rate, protecting them from market fluctuations and cutting out any middlemen to increase their profits.
Their factory in Brazil, is just hours away from producers, reducing transportation distances and with excellent working conditions. Their employees are guaranteed adequate housing near the factory and their rights to unionise are protected. This is fashion with a conscience. And while not every shoe is vegan (1 Veja model out of 3 is 100% vegan), every leather is tanned using non-toxic processes to reduce their impact on the environment. If there is an issue with their supply chain, Veja has already found and solved it, from the water that feeds their cotton plants to the shoeboxes you receive your Veja’s in (recycled of course).
But all this focus on sustainable production doesn’t mean they’ve sacrificed on style. The minimalist trainers come in versatile neutral colourways like white, grey, black and gum but just the right amount of colour pop. And with a bonafide running trainer amongst their offerings, you can be sure that Veja know a thing or two about cushioning and comfort too.
Not sure about how Veja trainers fit? Luckily for you, we’ve found three sustainable trainer fans who have intimate knowledge of the styling, sizing and care when it comes to Veja trainers. Adding to your trainer collection has never felt so saintly.
Instagrammer from Copenhagen, Denmark
One of my friends, who works with conscious fashion, introduced me to Veja a while back. I already knew the brand through various online platforms and was intrigued by their minimalistic sporty look with a splash of colour. Because of her profession, my friend knew a lot about the brand and told me about the responsibly sourced materials that are used to make Veja footwear. I really like the fact that their trainers are responsibly made without compromising on design. Also, I am always keen to support brands that reuse plastic since this is something I pay a lot of attention to in my everyday life.
I have styled my Veja trainers with two different outfits. The first is with a GANNI silk dress - another brand that is constantly working on being more responsible – I love how the green colour of the dress compliments the deeper green detailing on the trainers. This outfit is totally me, and I feel comfortable and sexy at the same time. The other outfit is all vintage. Pretty much half of my wardrobe is vintage, but I do like to buy new trainers so Veja is the perfect choice for me. I have always been a sucker for low top trainers combined with wide legged jeans.
Sizing & Fit:
I have what I’d say are very ‘average’ feet, so not too narrow or too wide. I’m normally a European 39 shoe size, and I usually take the same size when choosing trainers, so that’s what I went with for my Veja’s. I’d say that they are very true to size, so I’d recommend just going for your normal size when choosing your Veja’s. But, if you’re in doubt or have wider feet, it’s better to take half a size bigger rather than smaller because it’s always easier to fit into a trainer that’s too big than too small. Life is too short to not wear comfortable shoes!
Comfort is key when it comes to trainers. Even though I probably wear trainers five days of the week, I only have a small selection and think carefully before buying a new pair since they’re an item I know I will wear a lot. I go for long walks and bike rides around the city almost every day, and I really don't have time to worry about sore feet, who does? Veja trainers are comfortable and fit really well. From my experience, low top trainers can sometimes be a little rough on your feet in the beginning, but I’ve not had any problems with my Veja’s.
I‘m a big fan of Jason Markk shoe cleaner. It has given new life to some of my oldest most worn-out trainers, ones which I’d already given up on. It even saved one of my favourite pairs which I wore to Roskilde Festival, I thought I could never wear them out in public again! It’s easy and straightforward to use – you just mix it with water and apply it using a sponge or soft brush. The product is 98.3% natural (consisting mainly of natural soaps from coconut and jojoba oils) and the packaging is biodegradable. It works wonders on all materials.
Veja is one of the brands that has really stepped up to the plate with the increasing need for sustainability in fashion. Veja not only advocates its own sustainable business practices but also recognises the widespread deficits and 'greenwashing' across the industry, thereby encouraging consumers to dig a little deeper.
It is very hard for ethical operations to be quantified and measured because every business is so complex and different, but there is a proxy of sorts in the amount of information provided - and insight disclosed - by brands. Where some brands simply advertise their "support" of a particular initiative, Veja discusses and quantifies the ethics of their business practices across areas such as community development, sourcing, labour, fabric processing, assembly, logistics and pricing.
It is my opinion that any binary certification or claim relating to a single sustainable practice should be taken with a grain of salt; many brands see such certification as a branding/marketing exercise. That said, there are some businesses, such as Veja, that simultaneously educate customers about the industry and discuss ethics across many facets of the business. These brands should be revered, especially alongside their less ethical and transparent peers.
These Veja trainers re extremely versatile, so the styling varies greatly; sometimes I style them as a beach shoe and sometimes I use them to dress down a more formal outfit. The outfit pictured is somewhere in the middle, in the realm of streetwear. I have always been a proponent of high-waisted, pleated pants - they elongate the legs and define the waist, creating a nice silhouette. Here I have balanced a formal trouser with a classic singlet, which is old-school but also a bit edgy, given it originated as underwear. I also put a silk shirt over the top, which turns it into more of a Cuban (or Ace Ventura) look.
I chose a pair of Vejas that are basically as organic as possible; they are made from leather, cotton and rubber. If I am buying new clothing - not vintage - I choose pieces the same way, by looking at fabrication. My advice for shopping sustainably is just to be more mindful. Find local brands that do great basics in natural fabrics, and care about their environmental and social impact. When you're going to buy something, think about how it was made (the true cost) and where it will eventually go. It takes a long time to understand the ethics of the business of fashion, so just start paying attention. Buy things that you really love and pay more for them. Paying more *generally* means that the piece was produced to a higher standard and you will value it more than you would a cheaper option.
Sizing & Fit:
I found them to be true to size. I chose my usual size and they fit well. I went for a two-kilometre walk the first time I wore them with no problems. That said, the toe cap is quite narrow and I felt a slight pressure on my smaller toes.
I would say that they are less comfortable than running shoes but on par with other fashion trainers such as the Nike Air Force 1. My New Balance 770’s are more comfortable because the suede is softer and they are lined/cushioned on the inside. I couldn't compare them with high-fashion trainers, which are more about form and less about comfort/function.
There are a lot of things you can do to keep your shoes in good condition. The first line of defence is not getting them dirty in the first place, which basically means not wearing them off-road or in wet conditions. Also, be mindful of crowded situations where people are likely to step on your feet; I once had someone on the tube in London gash polished leather by stepping on my shoe. You can also make your shoes more resilient by using a sealant such as fabric protector or shoe polish. I also find that rubber is less likely to scuff if it's dusted with talcum powder, which makes the rubber more slippery.
To clean your shoes, start by brushing them down to get rid of loose dirt and dust. Then wipe down non-absorbent parts such as rubber and sealed leather with a damp cloth. Stubborn marks might require a bit of soap. Just be aware that excess water will be absorbed by fabric such as laces, mesh and cotton stitching, which might be harder to clean. Some shoes can be put in the washing machine – check fabrication and definitely don't put leather in!
Instagrammer from London, United Kingdom
Veja’s have always been my go-to trainer for styling my everyday looks. Whenever in doubt on what to wear I always grab my Veja’s. They’re so versatile and are guaranteed to go with every piece of clothing I own. They’re a classic pair of trainers that are one of my wardrobe essentials.
It’s incredibly important to me that the brands I wear or work with are making vital steps towards sustainability. Veja have always led the way and are 100% transparent in the work that they do in order to achieve this. Each step in making their shoes has been thought out and planned to help protect our planet whilst still keeping up with the latest trends.
I wear my Veja's almost every day and team them with nearly all of my outfits, whether I’m running out the door to walk the dog, jumping on the tube to go to a meeting, or heading to the local pub for lunch, they tie in nicely with any occasion, and to be honest these days I’m looking for comfort whilst still staying stylish. My favourite looks to pair them with are laid-back suits, jeans and a t-shirt, or my favourite silky black tapered trousers. I especially love how a sharp suit is instantly stripped back to something more casual when wearing Veja’s. I’m also very much looking forward to sporting them with my spring dresses, including my favourites from Reformation and Rixo. I love how these timeless and sustainable ditsy floral print dresses go with a fresh white trainer in the warmer months. I’m obsessed with how Veja’s can instantly transform a look, giving you an instant boost of confidence.
Sizing & Fit:
Veja’s fit true to size and are incredibly comfortable. I’m always a little hesitant when buying any shoes online as I tend to be in-between sizes in most brands, but when buying Veja’s I recommend buying your usual size.
Veja’s are the most comfortable trainers I’ve ever worn, they feel like you’re walking on clouds and there’s no rubbing on the heel or across the feet. The smooth lining inside makes for a perfect shoe. I find the fit and feel of Veja trainers incredibly premium compared to other high-end trainers I have purchased or worn, the leather and cotton materials are super soft and snug.
I always protect my Veja’s with Liqui Proof protector which dramatically reduces wear and tear, but I also like to keep my trainers bright white and super fresh so I always clean them as soon as any marks occur. For a deep clean the first step is to remove the laces and place them in the washing machine ready for your next white wash. I dry brush the outside of the trainers removing any dried-on dirt. Then, I make up a soapy solution of washing liquid or laundry detergent, and using a clean cloth (nothing that has been used with bleach or any other products) I’ll gently rub and massage the dirt away until the shoe is clean. I always allow them to air dry at room temperature.
If your shoes only have a few scuffs and marks, I tend to use a bio-degradable wipe to gently wipe away any dirt. This is a super quick and easy way to clean your trainers if you’re about to run out the door.
I love what Veja stands for and the story behind the brand – they’re known for their sustainable sneakers made with ethical suppliers using ecological materials. I think now more than ever it’s very important to support and buy from sustainable brands.
I love styling my sneakers with casual looks like I’m wearing here. Something comfortable that I can wear when I’m out running some essential errands. I love pairing them with recyclable basics from other brands that are zero-waste closed-loop companies.
Sizing & Fit:
For me, Veja’s run a bit bigger so I went down half a size. I’m usually a 6.5 US and got a 6 US. But they’re so comfortable! I love the way they fit and feel.
I like to clean my sneakers with just water and a clean cloth, although sometimes I use baby wipes. Just don’t use anything harsh as it can damage them.