Wild Rubber Trainers that don't cost the Earth.

These trainers began in a tree. Bia Saldanha had met rubber tapper and activist Chico Mendes a month before he was assassinated for his work trying to protect the forest by empowering wild rubber tappers. A young designer, entrepreneur, environmentalist and founding member of Brazil’s green party, she had an interest in the possibilities of wild rubber for fashion. Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Bia has lived for most of the last 26 years since Mendes’ death in Rio Branco – the small town at the heart of this state – Acre, in North West Brazil. Bia has helped multiple brands and NGOs use wild rubber in their supply chains – from a Hermes Amazonia bag created in the nineties, to collaborations with WWF and her own production line Tree Tap. “I guess it is my, mission” Saldanha says of her perseverance working to promote wild rubber. “I would like to make them the richest people in the world… in my opinion they already are, they live in the most beautiful place.”

Wild rubber being tapped in the Amazon

In 2007 Bia was approached by Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion, the founders of the French shoe company Veja. Since founding the company in 2004, Veja had sought to create a socially and environmentally responsible supply chain. They were inspired by the environmental impact of wild rubber and offered to pay a premium to the local tappers for wild – rather than plantation – rubber. Veja currently employs 80 tappers through three associations in Acre, and pay on average 30% more than the regular market for their wild rubber. Rubber is collected, poured into trays with water and coagulating acid, then after a day, it is hung for 5 days to dry.

Natural rubber bring hung to dry

Veja’s cotton is produced by 320 families who farm organically, with mixed farming methods, in Ceará, North Brazil. Veja buys 60% of its cotton from an association of growers located in Tauá, North-east Brazil (ADEC: Associação de Desenvolvimento Educacional e Cultural) and pay 65% more for their cotton than the regular market. The cotton and sheets of FDL rubber are sent to factories in Rio Grande do Sul, South Brazil, where they are mixed with synthetic rubber for stabilization purposes and formed into shoe sole molds. The shoe soles contain 30-40% wild rubber. All of Veja’s factory workers own decent standard houses, with 80% of them are union members. The average wage of the factory workers was equivalent to 238 Euros a month in 2010 (legal minimum wage for the shoe industry in Brazil was 205 euros a month in 2010). Following two social audits to the factory, and improvements they made in response to non-compliance issues, in April 2009, Fairtrade certification was approved.  For the production of their spring-summer 2014 collection, we have been working with a new factory.

Veja trainers are transported by boat from Porto Alegre, Brazil to Le Havre in France. Upon arrival in Le Havre, the trainers travel in barges along the canals to the Parisian suburbs where their main offices and designers are based. Veja work with the Atelier Sans Frontières association (ASF) to store, prepare and send out orders. ASG helps facilitates people facing social exclusion to find work. Veja’s packaging is made of recycled and recyclable cardboard. The size of the shoe-box was reduced in 2002 to optimize efficiency.

In 2013, I was asked, as part of my second year working with Sky and WWF on Sky Rainforest Rescue to design a pair of trainers with Veja. I wanted the design to reflect the language and imagery of the forest as authentically as possible, and so I looked to footage I had shot in the Amazon the year previous, on my first visit to Acre, Brazil. In 2012 I had taken a super eight camera and shot different sequences with different animals, flora and fauna from the forest, which I edited into a short film.

Watch Lily's film here

Watch Veja's video here


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