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Cotton, cornstarch and ricinus oil: Veja’s approach to vegan leather alternatives

By Press Club



Image: Veja / Charlotte Lapalus

In the past years, vegan leather alternatives have gained popularity as a more eco-friendly material. One of the trailblazing brands for vegan-leather sneakers is Veja - one of three pairs made by the French brand are entirely vegan. Ever since the beginning, Veja has pursued a mission of adding value and positive impact to the production chain of sneakers - which is why they continuously search for more sustainable materials and sourcing options to create their signature sneakers.

Towards more sustainable solutions

In recent times, the industry has come up with promising alternatives to leather. The motivation behind this development is clear: minimising leather tanning, reducing the overall impact of animal agriculture, and not least to support animal rights.

Although introducing animal-free alternatives is generally a positive decision for the environment, numerous factors have to be taken into consideration to evaluate their potential. Many vegan leather alternatives are made from polymer structures. These plastic-based materials are not the ultimate solution: Polymer structures take hundreds of years to break down which leads to a questionable afterlife of the products. In addition, they are made from up to 99% of petroleum - a resource that is equally known for its environmental impact as the leather industry itself.

Veja’s approach to vegan leather

For Veja, polymer-based alternatives have never been an option. This is why the French sneaker brand has been on a quest to find an alternative that is based on biomaterials instead of synthetic ones. After five years of extensive research and development, they introduced a new vegan leather material with improved qualities: C.W.L. - an organic cotton blend that is coated with a cornstarch and ricinus oil mixture, providing similar qualities as leather such as suppleness, long lastingness and smoothness. By using these natural materials, Veja has achieved a 54% bio-based vegan leather alternative with which they aim to “go beyond leather”.

Veja even found an alternative for suede - which is more difficult to achieve due to its characteristic look and feel. Veja developed a Vegan Suede, which they use for details on their sneakers. It is a synthetic, non-woven fabric made from microfibers that are needle-punched together and impregnated with a P.U. resin - a process that is less toxic than classic procedures for suede alternatives. In addition, the sustainable brand has created another material alternative, specifically for the use of bright colours - which are not always compatible with the Vegan Suede material.

One step at a time

Veja still uses leather in their shoe production. Between 2008 and 2015 all leathers at Veja made use of the less harmful chrome free tanning process. However, they realised the quality and costs were not supportable for their mission - after all, they want to create sneakers that last, following the idea that the most sustainable option is always the one that stands the test of time. Since then, Veja has partly returned to the common tanning process - but it wouldn’t be Veja if they weren’t already thinking about how they could improve. All their tanneries are part of the leather working group, meet Reach standards and are located in South Brazil, close to their production factories. While they are researching alternative options and materials, they are making sure the current ones are as sustainable and ethical as possible.

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