Veja’s New Running Club Centers Sustainability and Community

·4 min read
<cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Veja</cite>
Photo: Courtesy of Veja

Veja, a footwear brand that prides itself on über-sustainability, has launched a running sneaker, the Marlin. While you’ve probably seen their casual sneakers on the likes of Kate Middleton and Emily Ratajkowski, their running shoes are fit for hardcore pavement stomping. The footwear follows the Veja ethos of all things eco-friendly and is made of 62% bio-based and recycled materials (recycled plastic bottles, sugar cane, banana oil, natural latex, rice waste, and Amazonian rubber). Running in them feels similar to running on a cloud. The company launched the shoe along with a New York City run club. Every other week, the group meets and runs a modest 5K along with circuit training. The club—available to anyone who signs up through Veja (runningclub.nyc@veja.fr) and Strava—is divided into six groups, each accompanied by a trainer. The run starts at the Veja store in SoHo, then goes down Mulberry Street to the West Side Highway before looping back.

Though the structure may sound familiar, this isn’t your standard run club, nor are the trainers. Veja partnered with A Second U Foundation, a nonprofit organization that gives formerly incarcerated people a second chance when they reenter the world by training them for jobs in the fitness industry. The concept was created by New York native Hector Guadalupe, who was in federal prison for 10 years. Guadalupe got into fitness while serving time and found solace in physical activity. “I fell in love with how wellness helped me rediscover who I was as a human. Going through a lot and being in prison, there are so many systemic layers of oppression and discrimination and hate and racism that you have to come out on the other side of that in a holistic way,” says Guadalupe over the phone. “You have to dig deep when it comes to finding out who you are, what your love is, what your passions are, finding ways to love yourself. Yoga was that for me. Weight lifting was that for me. Starting a running team while I was in prison was that for me. Meditation helped me get through almost three years in solitary confinement.”

Right: Hector Guadalupe of A Second U Foundation
Right: Hector Guadalupe of A Second U Foundation
Photo: Courtesy of Veja

While in prison, Guadalupe took correspondence courses, studied the industry, and trained fellow inmates. When he exited, he met a grim reality: He could not get hired at any gym or fitness club. “My first eight, nine months home, I couldn’t get a job. It was depressing, and it was saddening. In many ways, I felt betrayed by my own city, my society,” says Guadalupe. “‘I want to do well. Why can’t I be provided an opportunity to rebuild my life?’ These were the questions that I had to myself and about what I was going through at the time.”

Eventually, he found an opportunity at a sports club at Union Square, where he began working as a fitness instructor. At the time, he began to run into fellow formerly incarcerated men who had the same post-prison experience as Guadalupe and couldn’t find jobs. He invited them to the gym, trained them, had them shadow his sessions, and bought them workout clothes. According to Guadalupe, the experience “snowballed” into developing a 501(c)(3) company, which is now A Second U Foundation.

Currently, there are more than 200 members who participate in Second U. The program comes with eight-week training sessions, including CPR certification and nutrition, as well as financial stipends. “Our program comes with a personal obligation that you have to fulfill to receive the financial stipends we have,” says Guadalupe. “You have to open up a bank account. You have to write a bio on yourself. You have to register to vote. Everybody in the Second is a registered voter. We have field trips with them. We have mindfulness classes. We have meditation coaches.”

The concept of A Second U is aligned with the ethos of Veja, which has long worked with NGOs in its native France to employ people who might otherwise have a difficult time finding work. At the run club was Deon Walcott, who has been with Second U for more than four years. While he had left prison with a training certificate, he wasn’t able to get a job until he met Guadalupe. “[Guadalupe] was like, ‘Don’t you worry, you’ll get a job.’ I got a job at New York Sports Club, the same company that turned me down,” says Walcott. “Second U Foundation has been amazing for those types of things. It is a way in if you can’t get in through the doors yourself.”

Originally Appeared on Vogue