Written by Emily Farra
When a designer opens a new store, the first thing they tell you is usually who they hired for the interior design and architecture. They’ll explain how they tore up the floors, covered every inch of drywall in a glossy coat of paint, redesigned the façade entirely, and imported antiques from 6,000 miles away. Not so for Sébastien Kopp, the cofounder of Veja, who is opening the sneaker brand’s first New York store in Nolita tomorrow. But then again, you’d never expect him to care much for those details anyway. Since starting the label with François-Ghislain Morillion back in 2004, Veja has gone against the grain. They have never invested in marketing, advertising, or communications, preferring to put their money toward ever more ambitious sustainability goals. Veja currently sources all of its raw materials (like vegetable-tanned leather, natural rubber, foam made of sugarcane and banana oil, and vegan suede), and has built its own supply chain step by step. Rick Owens went so far as to call it “the most sustainable sneaker company [he] could find” when he asked them to team up for a collaboration last year.
For a brand so committed to sustainability, opening a store at all might raise a few eyebrows. It’s been argued that e-commerce is “better” for the environment than a physical store, but much of the IRL customer’s carbon footprint is derived from the car they drove to get there. In New York (and Paris, where Veja’s first store bowed in October), most of us arrive by foot or public transport, so that’s less of an issue. (The argument for online ordering also doesn’t take into account the energy costs of massive e-commerce warehouses or international shipping.) Still, redesigning and building out a new space can have a considerable impact, especially now that stores are pressured to be experiential and Instagram-able. Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t top of mind for Kopp. He says they tried to retain as much as possible from the original space at 205 Mulberry Street, formerly the home of Creatures of Comfort. “It’s difficult for me to want to enter a space and destroy everything and just throw it in the garbage,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of waste [in designing stores], so our point of view was to keep as much as we can, instead of asking an architect to redo everything. The wooden floors were a bit destroyed, but we said it’s okay, we’ll stain them. The walls were a bit worn, but it’s fine. And we didn’t use any paint at all, except for the windows.”
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