Osklen, Veja and the ‘achievable’ sustainability

News article previously published at O Estado de S.Paulo
By Fernando Scheller

 

Entrepreneur Oskar Metsavaht, one of the main references when it comes to the association of fashion and sustainability in Brazil and founder of Osklen brand, says that brands should embrace the sustainable cause without losing sight of the financial viability of the business. It is better to climb a mountain little by little than to try to reach the top in one shot - consequently not backing down the search for less polluting practices nor is the company forced to close its doors for good. 

 

The concept embraced by Metsavaht is called “as sustainable as possible”, that is, a performance as sustainable as possible. He recalls the case of a prototype, years ago, of an Osklen T-shirt made from 100% organic cotton, but whose final price - even for a premium brand - was not viable for the customer. After that, Metsavaht realized that it is better to take smaller steps to achieve his goals. 

“We had two options: either to discontinue the sample or to do it in another way. With a solution of 80% regular cotton and 20% organic cotton, we saw that the final sample was viable ”, remembers Metsavaht. "The important thing is to be transparent: it is about the customer looking and having the proper information about the textile fiber content of that piece." 

Osklen's sustainable approach began in 1998, following a partnership with Embrapa (The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation) to grow organic cotton. Since then, the company has evolved its production chain to work with a variety of raw materials and alternative processes - such as textiles made from recycled PET bottles, fish scale “leather” and the development of natural dyes - and the brand has received several international recognitions for this work. 

Although Osklen was sold to the Alpargatas group - which also owns the Havaianas sandals label-, Metsavaht continues to act as the brand's creative director. He not only gives guidance on the latest fashion trends, but also continues to touch on projects to expand the company's sustainable footprint. 

Brazil + France

Transparency is also the name of the game for French brand Veja - which is known in Brazil as Vert. The company- a success among young hipsters in Europe- has outsourced its entire production chain in Brazil. Its cotton use is organic, grown in the Northeast, and the rubber is extracted sustainably in the Amazon rainforest. “But that does not mean that we are perfect. And we make it very clear ”, says Beto Bina, manager of production chains and brand innovation. 

 

In addition to looking closely at its production chain, Veja is also careful that its sales success does not end up having an inadequate impact on the environment. "The company's growth was very organic, it was never leveraged by outside investors or put money into marketing to bring consumers artificially," he says. "We will never work with paid advertising." 

The concept also extends to the issue of governance and the treatment of employees. The fact that Brazil has strong labor laws influenced the choice of Veja for the country. “This would be way more difficult to do in China or India, for example,” explains Bina.

01.09.2020