Veja, the chic French sneaker brand made in Brazil, already has a reputation for being a favorite of fashion’s elite.
The label, known for its use of sustainable and organic materials, is sold worldwide at some of the coolest boutiques, including Dover Street Market, Kith, and Colette. Marion Cotillard, the French actress and epitome of Parisian style, is also a fan.
Now, 12 years after its inception, Veja will make its biggest U.S. debut to date. Until October 11, the brand will open a pop-up shop inside New York’s SoHo boutique Anthom. The store will carry the most extensive range of Veja sneakers ever to hit the States—from the bestselling Esplar 3 Locks, which feature three Velcro straps, to the V-10, a classic lace-up that comes in neutral shades. These shoes look even better when worn over time like your favorite leather jacket or that pair of distressed vintage jeans. Oh, and did we mention that all of Veja’s styles are unisex?
We sat down with co-founder François-Ghislain Morillion, one half of the creative duo alongside his partner, Sébastien Kopp, to talk French inspiration, sustainable materials, and the celeb he would love to see wearing the brand’s shoes.
Veja is a French brand, but everything is made in Brazil. How do the two different cultures affect the aesthetic?
I think our sneakers are a bit more French than Brazilian. Brazil is about tons of colors and a lot of information, and we try to reduce it. It’s about going to the core of the product. When we designed our retro runner shoes, we tried to do it in the simplest way. In the end, we like it when it’s sharp and clean. Though, Brazilian architecture is magnificent. It’s simple and brutal.
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What French style icons do you find inspiring?
One of our style icons is Marion Cotillard. She’s wearing our shoes with a Dior dress, and we find that pretty cool. It’s kind of a bohemian thing. She’s chic, but she’s not dressed up—that’s very Parisian. In London, the girls are very dressed up. In Paris, they’re a bit more relaxed, and they can wear sneakers with a dress. There’s no problem with that.
What artists inspire the different textures of each sneaker?
Lots of artists. My favorite artists are Rothko and Richard Serra. I love the thickness of Serra’s materials. For shoes, it’s not only visual, you have to touch it. In a way, it transmits an energy. You always have some shoes that you prefer to others, and it’s not always because they’re more beautiful. It’ also because when you touch them, they’re nicer.
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Why is it important for your brand to be sustainable?
We created this company with this ideal: To be able to make really beautiful pieces that respect men and the environment. Then, it really started to be a game—to be able to innovate and always go forward. Two years ago, we launched shoes using fish leather. We always want to be the leaders in the market and be really ahead of the others. It’s fun, to be able to get rid of plastics. It’s really something that the big brands are also working on. But they’ll be doing it more in five or ten years.
All of the shoes are made in Brazil in a factory that respects the rights of workers. We do social audits every year to be sure that the social rules are respected. That’s different. All our raw materials come from Brazil. The rubber comes from the Amazon forest.
What’s the most groundbreaking thing you’ve done in terms of sustainability with your sneakers?
We are working on a way to get rid of leather. I’m not able to talk about it much yet, because it’s a big research project, but we’re working on it with scientists. Leather is still not so sustainable. It’s a product of the meat industry. It’s not our dream material. For now, we have not found a material that is as beautiful as leather. The main thing is the texture and the way it wears with time. If you use synthetic leather, it’s actually plastic and it doesn’t age.
In twelve years designing for Veja, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve come across?
Korean craze. Koreans are crazy about our shoes. All these K-pop stars are wearing them. It was totally unexpected. If you go to Seoul, you’ll see them everywhere. We started really booming this year. They love the V-10. It’s very French and also very American. They also love to dress like couples. They even match the underwear.
Who would you love to see wearing your sneakers?
I’d say Obama. That’d be really cool.
Marion Cotillard on the celebrity who makes her swoon: