If there was one pair of fashion trainers to own this year, then a selection from the Veja SPMA S/S 11 capsule collection would be it. I’d style these hi-tops with a bodycon dress for ultimate 90s throwback style. One for Carnival this summer (yes I am thinking that far ahead).
Veja is the brainchild of founders Sebastien Kopp and Ghislain Morillion who began this creative project with the desire and vision to stay true to three elements: ecological credential, fair trade materials and the respect for workers’ dignity. This directive led to an Amazonian journey and a partnership with traditional rubber tappers, a co-operative of organic cotton growers and a unionised factory.
Veja buys fairly traded cotton from 320 families who live from sustainable, organic farming in Northeast Brazil. This means the farmers aren’t subsidsing their crops with commercial pesticides, which, in the past, led to health issues in the community due to pesticides in the food chain. The co-operative is also rotates their crop, growing things other than just cotton (which you can’t eat).
Last month, the Daily Telegraph reported that cotton is at a 150-year high, due in part to speculation on the market, but also to rising demand by China and limited global supply due to floods in Pakistan and Australia. Large retailers like Marks & Spencer and H&M who don’t buy fair trade cotton are feeling the recent spike in costs affect their profit margin. Because Veja pays a fair price for the cotton which is always above the market price, the recent fluctuations in raw cotton prices on the market has not made a dramatic impact on the company’s return.
The second element that goes into making Veja’s trainers is rubber. Veja sources not from a rubber plantation, but from Chico Mendès extractive reserve, where rubber trees grow wild. The reserve was named for Chico Mendès, a Brazlian labour activist and environmentalist.
Veja’s commercial relationship with the rubber tappers on the reserve has not only created a micro-economic model, but also inspired new, green technological advances in rubber processing which also conducted on a small scale, so the impact on the environment is minimal.
Finally, Veja pays their factory workers above the Brazilian minimum wage. All the workers have the right to the freedom of association and 80% of the workers are unionised.
Veja’s approach is exactly what Very Nice Threads would love to see as an industry standard. They are transparent about the limitations of getting this product on the market, but these seem so small in comparison to the overall scale of vision and delivery. There are also other ‘softer’ elements that make Veja so very cool. For example, their establishment of Centre Commercial, a concept store in Paris. Combining fashion with social commitment and artistic projects with environmental concerns, this space infuses their varied influences.
Last month they hosted the Blackout Party at Centre Commercial, where you could switch over to from EDF, France’s national (nuclear) energy provider to ENERCOOP, a green energy provider. Party-goers were invited to bring along their electricity bill to the party and put on a nuclear protective suit and gas mask.
In view of the recent Japanese tsunami tragedy and subsequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima, this push toward thinking more holistically about each choice we make as consumers is powerful. Really, who would think that a party at a concept fashion store has any direct relationship to nuclear energy? The point of Veja’s Blackout Party is the link between a nuclear meltdown and a pair of fashionable trainers, is not as indirect as you might think.