Veja is betting big on the circular economy, and it’s rolling out the welcome mat for anyone who wants to join it.
On Thursday, the French footwear brand threw open the doors to the Veja x Darwin project, a 820-square-foot space in a former military barracks in Bordeaux that it says will serve as a “test hub” for cleaning, repairing and recycling shoes “in order to develop the store of the future.”
Darwin, which is known for its co-working spaces, is a “place of sharing,” Veja wrote in a press release. “Darwin is a different place, a life-size playground for ecological and social innovation, inspired by urban cultures,” said the brand, which is a favorite of celebrities such as Meghan Markle, Emma Watson and Eddie Redmayne.
In addition to Veja, Darwin hosts 50 organizations, 200 companies, an urban farm, an organic grocery store, an organic restaurant and a skate park, “breaking the traditional ways of integrating art, commerce, culture, work and sport.”
Darwin is also a hotbed for “ecological commitment,” Veja said. Every year, it organizes a planet-focused cultural festival that brings together speakers such as primatologist Jane Goodall, philosopher Edgar Morin and Amazonian activist Raoni.
It is in this “hybrid space” that Veja says it’s embarking on a new phase of its sustainability journey, which has included experimenting with novel eco-materials made from recycled corn waste, reclaimed plastic bottles, sugar cane and banana oil. Veja also pays premium prices for wild rubber, which it purchases from communities of tappers in the Amazon who guard their lands against deforestation.
Last September, the brand launched the “world’s first post-petroleum running shoe” featuring an Alveomesh upper composed only of plastic derived from recycled single-use bottles and a midsole derived from a blend of agricultural waste and conventional ethylene-vinyl acetate foam.
In addition to refurbishing existing shoes, Veja x Darwin will offer never-launched Veja prototypes, archived designs and sneakers with minimal defects at discounted prices.
“This project is [our] latest addition, and the first in the industry, towards reforming the issue of waste and recycling within the fashion industry,” Veja said.
Despite the pandemic, the company has been on a store-opening spree. In March, it hung out the shingle for its first U.S. outlet—which quickly shut down amid the COVID-19 outbreak—just months after dedicating its Paris flagship.