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Veja’s sneakers have been touted as the most ethical sneakers in the world – and the company’s founders are surely the most ambitious.

French best friends François-Ghislain Morillon and Sebastian Kopp have achieved the impossible: a transparent, ethically produced fashion brand that incites nods of approval from hardline vegans, slow fashion crusaders, and good-looking celebrities.

Veja’s minimalist, timelesss sneakers are made from organic cotton, natural, non-polluting Acacia-tanned leather and wild Amazonian rubber by small producer cooperatives in Brazil. “It was the only place in the world we could find all these raw materials, while being able to adopt agro-ecology and respect fair trade rules,” explains Sebastian.

After working on sustainable development projects like solar panel and black empowerment programs in South Africa, supply chain production projects in China, and orphanages and social projects in Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil for a year, in 2004 the pair decided enough was enough.

“We became aware that the earth couldn't stand our lack of inconsideration any longer,” says Sebastian. “We quickly came to the point where words were not enough and that real action needed to take place.”

The action, they decided, would be sneakers. And so shoes became the means for them to promote and campaign for eco-farming, fair trade, employment for the impoverished and disadvantaged, and to create a new model of sustainable, responsibility production.

In a world where design usually comes first and production second, it’s not surprising that the conceptualisation of their first collection was particularly fraught.

“We were so inspired by the Brazilian volleyball team from the '70s,” says Sebastian. “We worked really hard to modernise it and come up with a design smart enough to shake up the existing market. And it happened! Our crazy dream became reality, and it was a huge success.”

Huge success is putting it mildly. Veja’s production has increased from 5000 to 125,000 pairs of sneakers in just six years.

One of the biggest secrets to Veja’s success is that they’ve eliminated one of the sneaker industry’s biggest expenses: advertising. Instead they rely on word of mouth – though incidental promotion courtesy of French actors Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg hasn’t hurt, either.

Their other secret? They don’t hold any stock. Instead, Veja makes all their sneakers to order. This completely eliminates waste – plus the associated cost of stock loss.

The jewel in the Veja crown is their V10 sneaker, which was designed to commemorate the brand’s 10th birthday.  Now available in a variety of colourways, it’s the shoe that finally captured the attention of the world. As soon as Veja listed us as an Australian stockist for these shoes, our phones began to ring – despite our first delivery not having left Brazil yet.

‘Veja’ is Portuguese for ‘look’. “It means to take a look around yourself; look at what's behind the product; look at how things are done, because it matters,” says Sebastian. “It also stands for transparency: We want customers to see the possibility of buying while knowing the story and production behind the design.

“We won't stop showing people that fashion design and respect for the environment are achievable, even if it is not the easier path to follow.”


Veja’s V10 sneakers are available now.

With help from The Guardian, High Snobeity and Bura 247.