I've been wearing a pair of Veja men's sneakers, specifically their SDU Mesh shoes, for a year, plus did extensive research of the company behind the shoes. Here is what I've found.
The bottom-line is Veja's line of shoes are serious competitors for joining your stable of sneakers. Veja's awesome vintage 70's style, ridiculous sustainability and socially responsible practices are undeniable. Their shoes use recycled material, are very high quality, and after a somewhat extended breaking in period, very comfortable.
Here are the scores on the R&R review criteria (1=Earth is sad, 5=Earth is happy):
- Price: 3 - Slightly expensive
- Environmental Sustainability: 4 - Superior to almost all sneaker brands
- Quality: 4: - Good, solidly made shoes with an extended break-in period
- Social responsibility/impact: 5 - It is hard to find a company that puts more thought into their business practices.
Price: Good for the Earth But Are Vejas Sustainable for your Wallet?
Veja's sneakers are a bit expensive compared to the sneakers I usually buy, coming in around $100 to $120 (see here for the price range and what is available on Amazon). However, they are not much more expensive, and in many instances cheaper, than a top-line pair of Nike, Adidas, or other major sneaker brands. I personally like to keep the price of my sneakers in the $80-90 range. That said, most dedicated sneakerheads don't bat an eyelash at spending big money on a pair of Nike Air Max or whatever.
I think the price is reasonable given the superior environmental and socially responsible practices of Veja (which I'll get to more below).
How about the benefits of originality? For me, that is a big plus of Veja. Most likely you will be the only person rockin' these at the coffee shop. Veja sold $37 million dollars worth of sneakers last year, Nike sold 1,000 times more sneakers (as measures in revenue). That is a lot less people walking around in the same shoes as you.
It is nice to be original these days rather than wearing the same old brands on your feet. Especially when those brands allow me to express my core values, such as environmental sustainability and social responsibility.
It costs 5 to 7 times more to make a Veja because the raw materials are environmentally friendly, adhere to fair trade principles, and because the sneakers are produced in factories with high social standards. Veja does not advertise as a way to offset their higher production costs. So in some ways you are actually getting a better made sneaker. Veja is putting its money into the shoe versus the smoke and mirrors of advertising.
Shoes Made from Recycled Material
Veja is doing an amazing job using recycled materials in their shoes. Like many other products on Recycled & Renewed, these shoes repurpose plastic waste. The shoes' mesh is made from recycled plastic bottles, with each pair using around 3 recycled bottles, as do numerous other of Veja's sneaker types.
Veja also has shoes that incorporate recycled cotton, flannel, and recycled polyester.
And if you want a truly unique pair of shoes, you can even buy a pair of "leather" sneakers made from tanned Tilapia skin, yes, that is right, leather made from fish skin!
Environmentally Sustainable Ingredients to Veja's Fresh Style
There are not many sneaker brands that can compete with Veja in terms of environmental sustainability. They are hyper-focused on using sustainable materials for their sneakers.
For example, Veja uses sustainably grown organic cotton, bought directly from farmers in South America. Veja purchases their cotton from South American grower cooperatives and works to ensure their growing practices are easy on the Earth.
Veja's growers do not use monoculture practices, unlike the huge industrial farming methods that likely supply cotton to your average sneaker company. Monoculture approaches, which basically mean farmland is packed with the same plant year after year, depletes the soil, increases the need for pesticides, and generally degrades the environment.
Veja Soles are Good for Your Soul
Buying Veja shoes are good for the Amazon. Yes, THE Amazon, not Jeff Bezos' Amazon, though you can buy them there too. Similar to the cotton in their shoes, Veja is buying their rubber directly from Brazilian seringueiros, wild rubber tree tappers from the Amazon. Seringueiros use a technique that extracts rubber from the trees but allows them to regenerate.
Veja's hypothesis is that by increasing the economic value of the Amazon, in a sustainable way as opposed to the economic value of cutting down the trees for lumber, you increase the likelihood of keeping the Amazon whole and thriving. Veja has purchased 265 tons of organic cotton directly from South American farmers, the equivalent, in weight, of about 64 elephants.
Quality: Solidly made, but Too Solid?
First off, as I alluded to above, these are stylish sneakers. As a city kid who grew up in Philly, having an appreciation for a nice pair of sneakers is natural. I wouldn't say I'm a avowed sneakerhead, but I try to rock relatively stylish sneakers. Despite the fashion world's brief flirtation in 2018 with big, chunky, lame Dad sneakers, I definitely wouldn't be caught dead in a pair of all-white, battleship size New Balances.
Veja's website talks a lot about their design process. They are thoughtful about the look of their shoes. As compared to the major sneaker behemoths out there like Adidas and Nike, Veja isn't churning out dozens of new styles every season, throwing spaghetti at the proverbial wall to see what sticks.
In terms of comfort, my pair of Veja had some early issues. I've worn these for 6 months now and for the first few weeks, if not 1-2 months, it was touch and go. The pair I bought started off a bit stiff. The tip of the tongue was oddly rough and occasionally irritated my ankle.
However, the Vejas have always performed well in terms of comfort while walking. They've never felt uncomfortable in terms of the bottom of my feet. I've covered some pretty long walks in my Vejas without any issues. In fact, during a recent weekend while visiting Raleigh, NC, I logged almost 17,000 steps and never gave a thought to the bottom of my feet (the other parts of my body are a different story).
The takeaway is some patience is needed. After some breaking in, the comfort level is excellent.
Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Veja is doing business the right way by focusing on paying fair wages, helping to alleviate poverty, and empowering its suppliers and farmers. This drives up the costs for consumers. But you can rest easy that your money isn't contributing to environmental degradation, deforestation, a faceless corporation, or to fund a larger advertising campaign.
Veja's logistics are handled by Ateliers Sans Frontières, or Workshops Without Borders (they don't seem to be affiliated with Doctors Without Borders). Ateliers Sans Frontières is a French non-profit that focuses on promoting the inclusion of people in society (homeless, young people without qualifications, disabled people) by offering them a job and social support. There are hundreds of people who have gotten jobs and valuable experience who otherwise wouldn't have because of Veja.
As I mentioned above, Veja buys its cotton directly from farmers in South America. Also, VEJA works with NGOs that provide support to cotton producers.
Veja works with ESPLAR, which is the name of one of their most popular sneakers, an a NGO that assists growers. Their agricultural engineers provide technical support to help them adopt environmentally sustainable growing practices and protect their harvests.
In Conclusion - Veja Is For Real
Veja sneakers are one of my favorite products that I've stumbled upon over the last few years. A great company making a superior product in a way that respects the Earth and our fellow humans.
I bought the shoes about six months ago with high hopes and Veja has delivered in terms of quality. Plus, their business practices are ridiculously progressive, probably one of the best companies I have researched over the last few years.
I am now a committed Veja supporter and with the exception of purchasing other environmentally sustainable brands to test, will come back to Veja again and again in the years to come.