Having collaborated with VEJA on an environmentally friendly trainer, the designer speaks frankly to Another Man about his relationship to sustainable fashion
- TextTed Stansfield
Rick Owens is perhaps the most uncompromising fashion designer working today. Though calling him a fashion designer seems almost limiting – sure he designs clothes, shoes and accessories, but he designs furniture too, and the world he has created feels exactly like that: a world.
Owens – or the “feral warrior king” as Tim Blanks called him in the A/W19 issue of AnOther – has been designing trainers for years. In 2017, however, he approached environmentally friendly trainer brand VEJA about a collaboration.
VEJA x Rick Owens
“Rick contacted us nearly two years ago. We were struck by the humility and the curiosity of his team,” VEJA’s co-founder Sebastien Kopp tells Another Man. “We had several meetings with Rick himself and his team. Things went very smoothly, it was as if both sides were impressed with each other: he is one of the main figures in the fashion industry, a free spirit, and we’re a growing company.”
Available in “butter-beige, black and exclusive ‘dust’ grey,” the resulting VEJA x Rick Owens trainer is plain and minimalist, marrying both Owens’ aesthetic and VEJA’s devotion to sustainability – the sole is 45 per cent bio-based and composed of banana oil, sugar cane and rice husk, while the ‘L-FOAM cushion’ is 50 per cent Brazilian natural rubber.
In fact, it’s this devotion to sustainability that first drove Owens to approach VEJA about the collaboration. Humble, just like Kopp says, the designer is the first to admit that his own brand has a long way to go in this area, and that he himself bears some responsibility for the rise of sneaker culture – an especially consumptive sector of the fashion industry.
“I might have been part of a current sneaker culture that began as niche and then developed into a story about consumption and status...” Owens tells Another Man. “Maybe going in a more responsible direction might be smarter... I researched the most ecological sneaker brand I could find and ended up at VEJA. I’m the last person to have any authority promoting sustainability but that’s the message – we can all start somewhere. I have been the first to roll my eyes at the hype around sustainability, but even if it’s hype, it’s hype in the right direction.”
“The cynic in me suspects that we might be too late and that the human urge to procreate is just going to overwhelm any features of restraint, but maybe people like Sebastien creating companies like VEJA will find a way to divert evolution,” he continues. “I hope so. Regardless, mindfulness and consideration are values I enthusiastically endorse and hitching my toxic wagon to VEJA’s pure pony is one of my first steps...”
A “pure pony” is a good way to describe VEJA, which prioritises transparency, organic materials and fair-trade sourcing more than any other trainer brand, ensuring that each and every stage of production is as environmentally friendly as possible. And yet they’re not satisfied, still pushing to reduce the ecological impact of their designs.
“We have many things to achieve,” says Kopp. “At the moment it isn’t perfect – it’s a huge step towards ecologically conscious running shoes. But we can only use 53 per cent biologically derived materials. We want to move towards 100 per cent.”
VEJA is an example to the rest of fashion which, as we know, is one of the most polluting industries in the world. The brand takes sustainability seriously and proves – in this collection especially – that great design and environmentally friendly practices aren’t mutually exclusive.
VEJA x Rick Owens is available from veja.com.