The buzzy French sneaker brand Veja is launching a running club.
While the club celebrates the launch of the new Marlin running shoe, the program marks a new kind of social impact. Teaming with A Second U Foundation — a nonprofit that trains formerly incarcerated individuals for fitness careers — the biweekly club kicks off at the Veja store in NoLIta on Saturday and is open to 20 people at sign-up.
It is sponsored by Veja and free of charge.
According to the National Institute of Justice, more than 70 million Americans have criminal records and the majority, or 60 to 75 percent who have served time in prison, are jobless a year after their release.
A Second U was founded by Hector Guadalupe to give individuals a second chance at sustainable career paths — helping employers see past prison sentences — with health and fitness in mind.
“Even more after COVID-19, it is important for people to gather and do things together,” said Sébastien Kopp, cofounder of Veja. “We met A Second U Foundation through [our press agency] No.29 — a long time before launching our running line back in 2019. And we discussed the idea of doing something together.”
Second U personal trainers also tested out the shoes in advance, offering feedback.
Kopp championed A Second U’s work to help educate, certify and secure employment for formerly incarcerated people as certified personal trainers, adding: “We really want to support them and also give something to our New York community.”
As environmental, social and corporate governance factors gain importance, public benefit corporations, or B Corps, have become a ready-made blueprint for good that is paying off. Last year, Veja was the most searched footwear brand on the shopping platform Lyst.
It’s not unusual for B Corps like Veja to carve out special career opportunities across their business operations. The brand has always employed previously incarcerated individuals and those recovering from addiction while New York-based flip-flop brand Tidal employs veterans in its manufacturing facility in New Rochelle.
For 15 years, Veja has teamed with nonprofits like Ateliers Sans Frontières and now Log-in’s, a nonprofit which stands for “logistics and social inclusion,” and provides people in a situation of exclusion or disability with a work occupation.
“They defend a new kind of capitalism,” Kopp said of Log-in’s model.
Veja set up a new logistics warehouse 18 miles south of Paris employing around 215 individuals through Log-in’s. Employees are responsible for receiving the sneakers from Brazil, organizing the warehouse, preparing orders and shipping them.
As to how the nonprofit partnerships alter workplace norms, Kopp said: “Of course, the working hours are different, and people get more than the minimum wage. They are also helped with housing as well as state subsidies. It is called an ‘inclusion path.’ They are also supported with housing and administrative paperwork,” in an effort to help people live more comfortable and stable lives.
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