Growing up, my go-to footwear was a good ‘ol, worn in pair of sneakers. Whether I was adventuring through the forest near our house, biking down to the local miniature pony farm, or scouring for bugs around the neighborhood, tennis shoes were my constant uniform. Yes, my first job was at a miniature pony farm and yes, I used to collect and examine bugs for fun…I know. Years later, I sort of gave up on everyday sneakers. My closet was well stocked with boots, sandals, flats, heels, and one pair of running shoes. You’d think for a Seattle dweller (hello rain and gloom), tennis shoes would be a staple item? For some odd reason, sneakers just stopped making an appearance in my wardrobe.
Well, leave it to ethical style to get me back in the sneaker game. When I started researching ethical brands, Veja was one of the first I discovered. Simple design. Organic and fair trade materials. Crazy comfort. Ethically crafted. Okay, okay… these basic kicks were just asking for me to give them another chance.
From a comfort and aesthetic standpoint, my Volley White Oxford sneakers are everything I could’ve hoped for! As much as I love pops of color, I typically keep my shoes neutral. I prefer my colorful, bolder pieces balanced with neutrals and clean styling. Though the organic canvas on the pair I selected is a crisp white, the dark cream suede panels on the front and back of my sneaks give them a warmer hue.
If you’ve been looking to invest in a pair of Veja sneakers, I found mine to run a bit smaller than expected. I’ve had to wear mine several times without socks (eeewww!? or #reallife), but I can already feel them stretching out enough to wear with slim socks. I would personally suggest sizing up at least a half size to ensure the right fit. Overall, I’m stoked with the appearance and feel of my new sneakers and think you’ll love them too! Now, how about those ethics?
Are Veja Sneakers Ethically Made?
This answer really depends on what you deem as ethically made. Some would say shopping ethically is about the rights of the workers who create a product: are they paid fair wages, able to work in safe and humane conditions, given additional benefits, education, etc. Others think shopping ethically is about reducing and reusing, shopping organically and naturally, ensuring the environment was not harmed in the making of a product. Finally, some believe shopping ethically is about selecting items that are cruelty-free, where animals were not harmed, tortured, or utilized at all in the making of a product or garment.
When I research ethical brands, I can typically spot transparency within a few clicks. If a brand has nothing to hide, they will be open and honest about their production and manufacturing, compensation and care for employees, as well as their material sourcing. This isn’t always the case (green washing), but typically a brief survey of a brand’s website is a helpful starting point. You can find detailed facts about production and material sourcing directly on Veja’s website, but for the sake of convenience (cause sometimes you just don’t have time to do the digging!), I’ve got you covered:
Veja works with factories close to Porto Alegre. Most of the employees are part of a community of German descendants who arrived at the end of the 19th century. Compliance with the core ILO Labour Standards is not enough to guarantee dignity at work. Other criteria must be taken into account, such as the workers: freedom to gather and stand for their rights, quality and proximity to their dwellings, standards of living and purchasing power parity, and social benefits and employees’ free speech rights.
Concerning the sneakers factory we’ve been working with since 2005, 60% of the workers live in towns and villages surrounding the factory (47km being the farest one), the other 40% live near the factory. The factory has pre-arranged coach services. All of them own decent standard houses (water, electricity etc…). 80% of them are union members. The average wage of the factory workers was equivalent to 238 Euros a month in 2010. A premium was also paid at the end of the year. The legal minimum wage for the shoe industry in Brazil was 205 euros a month in 2010. The factory employees are entitled to 4 weeks’ paid holiday and they do not work on bank holidays. Overtime is paid. On average, an employee works a maximum of 2 hours extra a day. This is only the case in high season.
First off, this information from Veja’s website is a bit outdated. Veja is currently working on updating their various transparency pages and will do so later this summer. It appears that Veja surely cares about fair wages, working conditions, and benefits for their employees (including four weeks of paid vacation a year!) Seeing as there are so many darn layers to shopping ethically, I’ll admit that human welfare is of top priority when I choose to purchase from an ethical brand. Interestingly, what we rarely discuss in the ethical community is, “Who decides the standard of what is ethical?” With personal opinions, religious views, cultural differences, international laws, and experiences as our guide, this standard is blurry.
Additionally, what about material sourcing? I never admit to being an “ethical expert,” so this arena of material sourcing is somewhat new to me. Nevertheless, if I claim to shop ethically, I have to consider multiple factors, including where brands source their materials. Thankfully, Veja utilizes organic and fairly traded cotton, as well as fairly traded rubber for the soles of their sneakers. They even use recycled plastic bottles to create some of their fabrics! (#cool).
Sourcing Leather Ethically
Now onto the trickier subject I’ve tried to avoid for quite some time: leather. Recently, I’ve started to uncover the fact that most ethical companies do not know a great deal about where their leather is sourced from. They may know what they pay their workers, where their factories are located, and where most of their materials are sourced, but in my research, leather sourcing is typically met with uncertainty.
Veja’s leather sourcing is no exception and isn’t as clear as I’d initially hoped. When I inquired via e-mail with the brand (yes, I directly e-mail or cold call brands with transparency questions), I learned that the leather used on Veja sneakers is sourced from Brazil, but those farms are currently not organic. I also learned that Veja is working on their leather sourcing to ensure that their practices are fully ethical and that they will be updating their project page this summer, where their practices will be further explained in detail. A bit vague, yet still interwoven with a sincere promise of additional action and further visibility in the coming months.
There has been significant (and understandable) skepticism in the ethical community regarding leather products. Is by-product leather (salvaged leather that would otherwise by discarded from the meat industry) really ethical? Is it truthfully a by-product? Sure, this method is making use of materials that would presumably be thrown out, but what if the animals were killed under inhumane circumstances? Is that ethical? Vegan or not, most would not want to buy a bag made from the skin of an animal that was tortured, right?
Currently, my main focus when I shop ethically is to ensure human lives are treated fairly in the production of my garment. Yet, as I delve deeper into this topic I am so deeply passionate about, I’m faced with layers of questions that can be uncomfortable or difficult to answer. By investing in Veja, I am ensuring job security for a family in Brazil, but potentially purchasing unethically sourced (or cruelly obtained) leather in the process. Am I okay with this?
Wouldn’t it easier to be completely black and white? Simply stop buying leather products altogether until I am certain it was sourced under fully ethical conditions? That’s one approach. But what are fully ethical standards? Truth is, I enjoy the aesthetic and quality of leather products. I know with certainty my purchase will last for years to come, which is not always the case for leather alternatives. Furthermore, I care about the job security that my leather purchases are creating for men, women, and their families when I purchase products from companies like Nisolo, Enat, Veja, and Fashionable.
Undoubtedly, ethical shopping has a vast array of layers. How do you weigh each one? Which products will you buy and which ones will you avoid? Should we put more weight on living wages, fair working conditions, health benefits, education, the environment, organic products, recycling and reusing, going zero-waste, animal welfare, charitable giving, sustainable materials, or a combination of them all? My point is that shopping ethically is vastly complex. Because of this complexity, we often become overwhelmed determining what is right and what is wrong. And because we feel overwhelmed, we often avoid conversations with individuals whose ethical opinions may differ from our own. In regards to being an ethical consumer, do you still purchase leather products? If you do not purchases any animal products, what are your thoughts on the job security created by ethical companies that create products using leather? I would love to hear your thoughts!
Until next time,
Note: This post was not sponsored by Veja.