Walking the Talk

VEJA’s sustainable footwear at Vitra Circle Stores

VEJA shoes in various models, colours and sizes are on offer in the Vitra Circle Stores in Brussels, Amsterdam and on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein for a limited period of time. The VEJA pop-ups at Vitra reflect a shared vision of providing durable products, giving these products a second life and reducing waste. In this article, the VEJA team shares insights into VEJA’s journey and its commitment to sustainability.

What are the biggest challenges that VEJA has faced since its inception?

The main challenge for us at VEJA is to surpass ourselves! We have come a long way these past 19 years: creating the first sneaker to reinvent the production chain, made with ecological materials such as organic cotton or Amazonian rubber that we source directly. VEJA is expanding all over the world without investors, stock or advertising, naturally and strongly. We currently have a team of 550 people.
Which achievement makes you particularly proud?

There is not one special achievement in particular, but we are certainly proud of the repairing project. When we started the VEJA recycling project, we saw that we were missing an opportunity: people were throwing away their shoes when they were damaged or simply worn out. By collecting thousands of old sneakers, we realised a lot of them could be repaired and cleaned. Before talking about the circular economy, before discussing circularity, there is a step we all missed: repair. Repair is a word that has disappeared from our common language. We decided to change this.

In June 2020, we launched the ‘Clean, Repair and Collect’ project to help sneakers last longer. We began in Darwin, Bordeaux, launching our first cobbler station. There, we repaired sneakers from all brands for the first time. In July 2021, we set up a space to fix shoes and sneakers at Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Our cobblers didn’t just repair VEJA sneakers – they also fixed over 3500 pairs from different brands. In July 2022, Berlin became the first VEJA store to offer in-store shoe repairs. After Bordeaux, Paris and Berlin, we added a repair station in our Madrid store. Simultaneously, we launched a repair workshop inside a movable container and partnered with Log’ins, a reinsertion company.
While other brands throw them away, we fix returned sneakers with minor issues so that we can resell them. In this cobbling container, more than 1000 pairs of sneakers are repaired per month. We then decided to take the VEJA repair project and establish a new standard by opening a sneaker repair temple in Paris: the VEJA General Store. A 100 square-metre-space with two cobblers who repair sneakers and shoes all day long, and where there is also a tailor who will extend the lifespan of clothes, whatever the brand. With this repair service, we offer to restore shoes to their original physical state, while cleaning services increase the product’s emotional durability. We repair all kinds of shoes and all brands because we consider that the generation of waste in the fashion industry is not a brand issue, but an industry one.

You have set yourself high standards for material extraction and production. How do you ensure that these standards are adhered to?

We became B Corp-certified in 2018. For us, it’s not all about certification. But B Corp does provide guidelines to improve the company in every possible way. It has given us a lot of ideas; there are a lot of things that we can do better. What is the length of paternity leave for example? Do we monitor wage equality between men and women closely enough, etc…

Also, 90 percent of our production chain is FLOCert-certified. Our organic cotton has GOTS and IBD certification. But to be honest, that isn’t really our main concern. Most certification programmes just look at the end product, not the production chain. We don’t think this goes far enough. There is no eco-certification as such, but instead there are thousands of possible ways to operate fairly and sustainably. A certification can only be the first step; there are 99 more. You must be at the site where the raw materials are cultivated and processed. For us, getting to know the producers and farmers personally is more important than an eco-certification.

You try to communicate very transparently. Do you sense that this is appreciated by your customers?

VEJA’s secret to transparency is to go into the field – to know what we’re talking about. It is about understanding the problems of reality. Today, the young generation believes you can set up a project or brand sitting behind a computer. We think this is a big mistake. To meet the people who are making our clothes or shoes, to visit the factories, to see the organic cotton fields – those are the most inspiring moments for us. It keeps you in touch with the real world, and we think that is what’s needed today: less talk, more action, more reality. We don’t tell others to change but put all our energy into changing ourselves. We prefer to tell others to ‘face reality’.
Over the next few months, VEJA is present with a pop-up in Vitra’s Circle Stores in Weil am Rhein, Brussels and Amsterdam. How did this cooperation come about?

The idea for this collaboration emerged on both sides at exactly the same time with each brand adopting an identical approach: offering products that last longer. It was pure coincidence: a VEJA team member reached out to Vitra and a few days later Vitra reached out independently to propose a collaboration project: inviting VEJA to Vitra’s Circle Store at three different sites, Weil am Rhein, Brussels and Amsterdam.

What can visitors expect in the Circle Stores?

At the Circle Stores, people can find never-launched VEJA prototypes, special offers and models from previous collections, sneakers with minimal defects at reduced prices. Second-choice pairs with small imperfections or even pairs that are slightly used but have been repaired and can be worn again. The prices depend on the model and individual condition of the shoes. The VEJA pop-up will be available on the Vitra Campus until the end of August, and in Brussels and Amsterdam until the end of December 2024.
Even if sneakers are produced as sustainably as possible, the issue of overconsumption remains, with many people buying new sneakers every season. How do you deal with this at VEJA?

We all have to deal with this and presumably it’s the same at Vitra. At VEJA we say, ‘The most ecological sneakers are the ones you already have’ and that’s why we have opened eight cobbler shops to encourage repairing shoes instead of buying new ones.

Publication date: 10.7.2024
Images: 1., 8., 9., 10., 11., 12. © Vitra; 2., 3., 4., 5., 6., 7. © VEJA

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