Podcast Ep. 38, VEJA's SEBASTIEN KOPP, ACTIVE GOOD
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EPISODE 42 FEATURES VEJA'S COFOUNDER, SEBASTIAN KOPP
Are you a sneaker freak? How sustainable are your favourite sneakers? If they’re by cult French brand, Veja, the answer is very.
In the sustainable fashion space, we often talk about reducing the negative impacts of production on people and planet, but Sébastien Kopp and his business partner François Morillion talk about having a positive impact on the environment and society. Not less harm, but active good.
Is it possible? How do you choose eco-positive materials to make sneakers? Can you make money doing it? Veja sneakers cost 5 times more than conventional brands to produce because the raw materials are environmentally friendly and purchased according to fair trade principles, while the sneakers are manufactured in fair factories. How do you balance the books? Hint: you give up advertising.
What are the challenges of working this way? And what are the rewards?
In this Episode, recorded in Veja's HQ in Paris, Clare speaks with Sébastien about these questions and more. We talk: vegan shoes, Made in Brazil, agro-ecological organic cotton and wild rubber. We cover the history of colonialism in the Amazon, the definitions of success and failure and how to reshape the economic system for the better. This is a fascinating conversation with a truly original fashion thinker. And of course, he loves sneakers...
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT...
The name. Veja is a Portuguese-Brazilian word meaning 'look'. The idea is that you look beyond the surface to the story behind the product.
The opportunity. Veja focuses on "infusing each stage of production with a positive impact." Sebastien and Francois set out to create a social business first, a sneaker business second. They decided on sneakers because they're one of the fashion products with the biggest marketing mark-ups. If they eliminated advertising completely, they thought, they could charge the same as the big brands, and pump the difference back to the producers. AND IT'S WORKING. Emma Watson is a fan. Marion Cotillard and David Beckham love their Vejas. No advertising, no problem. Anyway, there's always Instagram.
According to the sneaker aficionados' favourite website, High Snobiety: "The pressures of overheads, the stiff competition of the market and the shifting desires of your customer base are a demanding set of challenges for any business. But in the sneaker game, the pressure cooker’s arguably hotter, and the competition fiercer. [Veja] is managing to usurp the established rules of play, and is doing it without trading on its ethical conscience or its ecological credentials. Oh, and it’s turning a profit too."
The difference between natural and synthetic rubber. Veja says, "The Amazon is the only place on Earth where rubber trees grow in the wild. In the Brazilian state of Acre, the seringueiros, rubber tappers, harvest the rubber used in VEJA soles. They live in the forest and depend on it for survival. Every morning, they make their way through the forest they have the authorisation to harvest and tap the rubber trees following a path only them know about. This circuit allows the trees to regenerate."
Transparency. "For me ethical fashion does not exist," says Sebastien. "We do fair trade, we use organic raw materials and recycled fabrics, [and] fabrics that are low impact on the environment, but we don’t use the word sustainable. Transparency is the word that defines Veja the best."
Fair Trade & no surprise price fluctuations. They set the price of their cotton in advance, in agreement with the state of Céara producer associations. They explain: "Since the price is completely de-correlated from the market and its fluctuations, the contracts therefore ensure the producers a greater financial security. This security is all the stronger since they know how much they are going to earn from the cotton before they even plant it." VEJA uses certified organic cotton, and they display their Fair Trade documents are available to download from their website.
Their distribution partners. Veja works with Atelier Sans Frontières, an organisation that promotes the professional integration of people who are excluded from the labour market, by offering them a suitable paid job, personalised social support, and helping them develop a career plan.
"A good design is a design that lasts, a good design is not one that is cool for six months." - Sébastien Kopp
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