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Ghislain Morillion
À savoir | 2 avril

Reconciling fashion and ecology, a matter of strategy
The preconceived ideas that we have been shaking up at Veja for 10 years – By Ghislain Morillion, co-founder of Veja.

In 2005, when we founded Veja, our ambition was to design a sneaker that would be both aesthetic and based on a more human economic model. By celebrating our 10th anniversary a few months ago, we showed that is it possible to reconcile these two dimensions. It is, in the end, just a matter of choice.
Our first choice was the one of fair trade. We deconstructed the entire shoe and we went through each channel: for our sole, the rubber comes from Seringueiro families of the Acre region in Brazil, and for the cotton, we work with people from the Nordeste who produce organic cotton.
We are convinced that ecology is inseparable from social. For instance, we pay 30 to 60% more for our naturel rubber than for a regular synthetic rubber. Yet, the instauration of the second one triggered a fall in the price of the first one which forced the inhabitants of the Amazonian forest to choose a more profitable activity: the sale of wood. By paying the right price, we insure a decent income to the Seringueiros and in the same time fight against deforestation.
 Ecology is not just for small brands
Producing in Brazil implies a 30 to 50% extra cost compared to shoes produced in Asia, where factory salaries are five times lower. We take on this extra cost by offsetting it with other things: we do not make any advertisement and we limit marketing costs as well as stocks. In the end, the entry price of a Veja is 99€, so only 10% more expensive than a competing shoe like the Stan Smith. And Veja is definitely profitable. So building an ethical business is overall a matter of priority.
And contrary to a preconceived idea, our model is not only for small brands. On the contrary, volume effects allow us to go further in the ecological dimension, which remains imperfect at the time being. We have, for instance, little control over the origin of our leathers and certain products used by our tanner, such as chrome, are not ecological. Besides, natural rubber represents only 30% of our soles. Reaching a critical mass would enable us to reinforce our investments in R&D notably to find new materials.
 Collaborations are a development accelerator, provided that you choose them well
In order grow, Veja has always signed collaborations. Often qualified as “publicity stunt”, we are convinced that real business levers exist behind collaborations. But to benefit from them, it is essential to establish clear objectives in the first place.
The purpose of our collaboration with Bleu de Paname was for instance to team up with a brand that gives meaning to the way it produces via Made in France and that has an important fan-base. The ones with Alexander Herchcovitch, the biggest Brazilian fashion designer, and Industry of All Nations, a United States west-coast brand, allowed us to develop on these two markets by benefiting from their fame and from the distribution networks of well-implanted actors.
 © DR
It is also important to carefully choose the people you want to collaborate with. To do that: make it simple and run on pleasure. One has to bear in mind that collaborations are above all meetings which enable our teams to gain from other creative experience, to share our skills, to observe other ways of perceiving fashion and no to get stuck in navel-gazing logic.

Partly thanks to these collaborations, in 2015 Veja made for the first time over half of its sales abroad.
 © DR
Crédits photo : Gunter Von Kloster Campen, DR
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