The French sneaker brand Veja has taken the industry by storm. How? With a simple but very smart concept: minimalist sneakers that make the world a little better through their ethical and sustainable design. In addition to organic cotton, recycled plastic and rubber from traditional sources, a new material is now being used: a leather substitute made from corn waste. FashionUnited spoke with the founders of the shoe label Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion about the new material, their efforts to run a responsible fashion label and a future without leather.
The new corn waste material is exciting news. Please tell us exactly how the R&D Process went along? What were the challenges?
The DNA of Veja is to create ecological sneakers. We use organic cotton, recycled plastic and leather with low impact on the environment. We have been looking for smart alternatives to leather for years. In 2014, we started a research and development program to increase our positive impact. We visited dozens of innovative suppliers around the world, attended conferences, contracted a biologist, ran many tests, tried many fabrics…with a simple but rather ambitious objective: to offer a bio-based alternative to leather. Something that has a great touch and feel, great resistance. Our goal was to find an alternative, but without using plastic, like the majority of “vegan” leathers on the market are already doing. Replacing leather by plastic does not sound like a good solution for us. We dove into the world of bio-based polymers, and this search took us to Italy, where we met the supplier to develop C.W.L., made of a cotton canvas waxed with a compound made of corn waste.
What part of the corn exactly is used for C.W.L.?
Our CWL is made from corn starch waste, a non-edible part of the plant.
What is the other 50 percent of the shoe made of?
Different from most of the synthetic leathers that are made on top of a microfiber petrol-based material, the corn waste is waxed on a cotton canvas, laced with cotton laces. The lining is made of a jersey fabric, made out of recycled plastic bottles. Our soles are made with wild rubber from the Amazon forest, which we source directly with rubber tappers in Brazil.
How does the shoe biodegrade?
Even though most of the components in our shoes are biodegradable - as the C.W.L. is - some parts of the shoe are not, such as the lining and rubber additives in the sole. We are aware that the 'end of life' of our products is still a mountain to climb for us, in order to improve our impact after our shoes are worn.
How robust is the material compared to leather?
We are very strict in testing our materials and C.W.L. is submitted to flexion tests and is actually more robust than leather.
Which other options of making vegan shoes are you looking into?
We have plenty of developments going on, but we like to communicate to the public when we are ready…so stay tuned!
Do you think that in the future, leather will be as controversial as fur?
We think it is a global movement: the meat consumption is decreasing in the western world; more and more people are aware that cattle farming has a huge impact on the environment. Even Greenpeace created a work group in 2017 to address this issue. With less meat, there will be less leather, and it is a great leap forward to start using leather alternatives now, with as little plastic as possible. As we are also using leather, for us, it is important to control that the leather does not come from deforestation areas in Brazil, and that the tanning process is done in a clean way. Today, we work with tanneries in Brazil that are audited and certified by the Leather Working Group, the only serious certification in this field.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.DE.
Photo courtesy of Veja