Challenger to Watch 2019: Veja

For being a quiet revolutionary

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If you haven’t heard of it, you’ll recognise Veja’s signature pair – slightly retro, minimal, box-fresh, white trainers with a trademark ‘V’ in navy. Founded in 2004 by twenty-five-year olds Kopp and Morillion, Veja is proud that its growth has been slow and sustainable. To date Veja has sold north of 1.7 million pairs and is stocked in over 1,500 shops in 50-plus countries.

Seeing first-hand the living conditions of Chinese factory workers versus the power of fair trade in action, Veja’s founders set about building a different type of company. Fuelled by their belief that great products needn’t be reliant on broken supply chains and destructive production processes, and deducing that the dominant players were scrimping on production costs to fund their vast marketing budgets, they asked the ultimate challenger question - What if Veja did things the other way? It could spend five times as much on production, nothing on advertising and charge the same price per pair.

Since the brand’s inception, the noise about the human cost woven into many of our everyday clothes and kicks has become louder. In 2013, an eight-storey clothes production factory in Bangladesh crashed to the ground in less than two minutes. 1,134 people died and another 2,500 were injured. People were dead because of our gluttonous appetite for fashion. The brands we love, failed to sufficiently care about the people responsible for their profits.

Veja shines a light on another way, knowingly overcommitting to the much-treasured sneaker as their only product. As per their name, which translates to mean ‘Look’ in Portuguese, Veja’s sustainability credentials are dramatised via radical transparency.

Veja is surprisingly open about everything. Where materials come from (ethically sourced, organic and often recycled, of course), contracts with producers (agreed in advance and long-term) and the founders’ pay packets (on average 5000 euros a month). These are all decisions other brands make and information they don’t choose to share. Veja has transformed its operating model into a competitive advantage.

As much as Veja is a sustainable brand, it is in equal parts a stylish one. This isn’t landed via traditional marketing, but it has a seriously hot Instagram game. As said on its website ‘Instead of relying on marketing hype to have an impact, we'd rather rely on collective intelligence.’ The power of the collective comes through in its approach, both regramming influencers sporting Veja trainers and forming allies with like-minded brands.

In my world where ‘10x growth’ is often the brief, perhaps in 2019 we should all keep an eye on the quiet revolutionary that is Veja. “Our growth as a brand has to be organic, so that the supply of materials can grow at the same pace,” says Kopp. “We still have a great growth, but keep in mind that we have to grow slowly because we depend on our producers.”

Emily Horswell is a Strategy Director at eatbigfish.