No more pleather: The Parisian shoe brand proves that vegan style can be sustainable, not just ethical.
Veja is a French shoe company that has been trying to make shoe production more ethical and eco-friendly since its inception fourteen years ago. It has done an impressive job, sourcing organic cotton directly from farmers in Peru and Brazil, experimenting with alternative materials such as tilapia skin and silk, using chrome-free suedes and leathers, as well as wild rubber harvested by a cooperative of small producers in the Amazon.
But offering a vegan option has remained a challenge for the brand. While it's easy to churn out a plastic shoe and call it vegan, that would seem like a cop-out to a brand like Veja, that cares about the lasting impact of its footwear. As co-founder Sébastien Kopp told Fast Company, "Replacing leather with plastic does not sound like a good solution to us."Indeed, this is a serious problem within the vegan fashion industry that I've written about before – that vegan claims are often made at the cost of the environment. To quote Dory Benami, co-owner of artisanal footwear brands Fortress of Inca and Human Blanco, which use cow leather sourced from Peru, Argentina and Chile:
"Calling something that is plastic 'vegan' to promote it is false advertising. The people who are taking advantage of this term aren’t doing it for the right reasons, they’re doing it to save money and play on their customers' emotions."
So, Veja embarked on an alternate route. For the past five years it has been working to develop a truly eco-friendly vegan shoe, one that is fully biodegradable. That shoe just launched in January, the Campo sneaker, made of waxed canvas. Fast Company sings its praises:
"The sneaker is made from canvas that has been waxed with a compound made from corn waste. The entire shoe is made from clean, bio-based materials, but it does look remarkably like leather. The point of this exercise was not just to create a cool, leatherlike shoe, but to prove that, with a little effort, it is possible for brands to stay on top of trends without contributing to the fashion industry’s pollution."
It's exciting to see this development. Hopefully it can become a model for other shoe companies who want to move away from using animal products, but are concerned with the lasting impact of those materials once disposed of.