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Design

Why the Founders of This French Sneaker Brand Spent Two Years Researching Faux Leather

Veja's founders have always been proud of their sustainable footwear -- except their use of leather. Here's how they found a solution.
Why the Founders of This French Sneaker Brand Spent Two Years Researching Faux Leather
Image credit: Courtesy of Veja
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the April 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The French brand Veja’s kicks look good -- like elevated Stan Smiths -- but their appeal goes beyond style. Sustainability has always been a major part of the company’s mission (and its sales pitch), and its rubber and cotton can be traced back to ethical farmers in Brazil. But the company’s use of leather left the founders feeling unsettled. 

“It’s really the only product we’re not very proud of in terms of sustainability,” says François Ghislain Morillion, who cofounded Veja with Sébastien Kopp. They had long searched for an alternative but came up short. The so-called “vegan leather” often used for shoes and apparel is just virgin plastic, and suede-like microfibers have a petroleum base -- hardly eco-friendly. 

Related: 3 Stylish Startups That Want You to Ditch 'Fast Fashion'

When the founders couldn’t find a better leather (or “leather”) on the market, they started tracking down laboratories that could make something new entirely. After years of polymers research, they found an Italian lab that made a laminate out of corn waste and infused it with polyester; then the lab would imprint a texture on top to imitate the grain of leather. The technology was good, but the result was imperfect. Veja had an idea. It pushed the lab to use an open-weave canvas as the base material. 

“The Italian guy was like, ‘Why canvas? It’ll be even more expensive,’ ” Morillion says. But after two years of research, the Veja guys knew what they were talking about. Canvas would give the product a more natural texture, and would make it more sustainable. The result: In January, Veja launched its Campo sneaker, made with a faux leather it’s proud to tout. ($150; veja-store.com)

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