I get it. You want to walk around the city in comfy sneakers that look elevated and cool, and leather kicks are the way to go. But the thing is, leather isn’t great on the environment. Cattle farming uses a lot of energy and generates greenhouse gases, and the leather tanning process often uses harsh chemicals that pollute the water.
Veja, an eco-friendly shoe brand based in Paris, has been working for a decade to make the sneaker–the footwear of the choice for the millennial generation–less destructive to the environment. The brand, founded by Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion in 2004, partners directly with organic cotton farmers in Brazil and Peru, and with rubber tappers in the Amazon, to ensure that all parts of the shoe are sourced ethically.
The brand has also expanded into other sustainable materials, through things like silk and tilapia skin. But leather presented Veja with a new problem. The founders were particularly aware of how the leather industry has contributed to the deforestation of Brazil, and polluted the soil. On the other hand, most “vegan” leather on the market is made from plastic, which is also not very sustainable. “Replacing leather with plastic does not sound like a good solution to us,” Kopp writes in an email.
Today, Veja launches a sneaker called the Campo, five years in the making, which looks exactly like leather but is actually made from cotton. The sneaker is made from canvas that has been waxed with a compound made from corn waste. The entire shoe is made from clean, bio-based materials, but it does look remarkably like leather. The point of this exercise was not just to create a cool, leatherlike shoe, but to prove that, with a little effort, it is possible for brands to stay on top of trends without contributing to the fashion industry’s pollution.