Supermodel Amber Valletta On The Future Of Sustainable Fashion + The Top Lessons Learned From 30 Years In The Industry

Amber VallettaPhoto Credit: Alexi Lubomirski

Amber Valletta is all about living a sustainable life. As such, the fashion icon is the perfect fit to host FIT’s Annual Awards Gala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York next week honoring Nadja Swarovski and Kering. The April 3 gala will benefit the FIT Foundation, the primary fundraising arm of FIT that cultivates the next generation of creative leaders by enhancing programs, developing new initiatives, and providing scholarship funds for students. It is the culmination of the two-day Sustainable Business and Design Conference, entitled “Innovating for the Future,” which will bring together leaders in sustainability to discuss advances in sustainable design.

Valletta, a mode activist and social impact entrepreneur (she founded the online store Master & Muse, which focuses on cutting-edge fashion and mindful manufacturing) is the perfect person to host the April gala. She has, after all, made sustainable living a priority, from focusing on mindful fashion to driving an electric car to shopping almost exclusively at farmer’s markets.

We sat down with this eco-warrior, who was just celebrated by Saint Laurent for 30 years in the industry at Paris Fashion Week in March, who gives us a sneak preview of what she’ll say during her keynote speech at the conference, where she thinks the future of sustainable fashion is heading and the greatest lessons she’s learned over her there decades as one of the world’s top models.

Amber VallettaPhoto Credit: Alexi Lubomirski

What are you looking forward to most with hosting FIT’s Annual Awards Gala honoring Nadja Swarovski and Kering?

I’m thrilled to be hosting FIT’s Annual Awards Gala. I am honored to support FIT, which is committed to innovation, inclusion and sustainability across the creative and design sectors. Nadja Swarovski and Kering are both examples of trailblazers that make sustainability a key value of their businesses. They continue to push the envelope and forge new paths in developing ways the fashion industry can change for the better.

It’s critical that the next generation of creatives and designers imbed the principals of sustainability into their designs and businesses. We need more brands and leaders like Swarovski and Kering! Thankfully, FIT is committed to nurturing the skills and ideas in their students necessary to embody a vision of achieving a future where sustainable living is the norm, not the exception.

What topics do you plan on sharing in your keynote speech at the FIT Sustainability Conference and what points are you trying to make?

I am speaking at FIT with my business partner, Amy Johnson and we are being interviewed by Vanessa Friedman, Fashion Director of the NY Times. We will be discussing how important is to communicate to people (brands AND consumers) that innovation in fashion can be stylish and good for people and planet. We want to make a difference by changing our consumer behaviors because the way we are designing, producing and buying fashion is not sustainable for the planet or our own wellbeing. This means building awareness around the problems and solutions in the fashion industry to help an educated and engaged customer use their buying dollars to buy better.

We are excited about a short film we are producing called The Changing Room that will be shooting later this year. We developed it to inspire everyone to think differently about the clothes they buy and how they buy them. It is a fun and entertaining story that informs and inspires positive change that doesn’t leave the audience feeling overwhelmed or deflated.

We will also be talking about Master & Muse and how the business that I built over the last six years continues to change and transform. Today I am focusing on my thought leadership and building awareness around the issues of sustainability. One thing that hasn’t morphed is that we built Master & Muse based on our Core Values. These values, such as awareness, innovation, collaboration, integrity, creativity and sustainability are part of every decision that we make and how we determine success.

The theme of the conference is Sustainability and Innovation, so we want to have a conversation about innovation that includes innovating our business models and our definition of success. One challenge we all face is the importance of circularity in creating long term sustainability. We understand that won’t be truly sustainable if our business model is one that is based ONLY on growth and producing/selling more. If we define success only as growth, then achieving success will likely destroy the planet.

Amber VallettaPhoto Credit: Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock.com

How did Master & Muse come about? What other sustainability initiatives are you working with and why is it an important focus for you?

While I was working with Amy on other projects, I felt inspired to do something meaningful in addition to modeling and acting. I wasn’t sure what it was and the first thing we did was determine my core values. Out of that process, came the idea for Master & Muse – a brand built on collaboration and holding two incongruent ideas together at the same time – that you could have both style and substance.

The truth is at the time, I was told to launch my own brand and product line. Investors were pressuring me because such deals can be quite lucrative. However, during a sleepless night in Aspen, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to make more stuff to put into the world – it isn’t in alignment with who I am.

So, I mustered up courage and decided to bootstrap my company. I found a like-minded partner in yoox.com and collaborated with them to launch the Master & Muse by Amber Valletta online store. We became the premier online store for responsibly made fashion, helping smaller sustainable brands gain more visibility. We proved that there is a growing market for responsibly made fashion. Ultimately, our partnership with yoox.com ended in 2016, but this experience helped us understand what customers want so that we are able to fill a hole in the market and not produce product that isn’t wanted or needed.

It is taking us longer but is more meaningful and impactful in the long run to align what we do with what matters to us. When we work this way, we are constantly innovating to find ways to do things differently.

One way in which we have succeeded in doing that is through collaboration. Today we are collaborating with the Copenhagen Fashion Summit on “The Changing Room” film project. We’ve collaborated with Lexus on a series of short films called Driving Fashion Forward about fashion and sustainability. And we are constantly talking to brands to partner in new ways. Everything is changing at record speed and we are ready for the next phase of impact.

Amber VallettaPhoto Credit: Craig McDean

Where do you think sustainable fashion is going?

The research is solid that more people want to buy from brands that are social and environmentally responsible. As a mom, I’m pleased to see a new study by Swell Investing that 82% of mothers believe that companies have a responsibility to create positive social and environmental outcomes in addition to financial returns. Other research at Nielsen has continually supported that Millennials and Generation Z will spend more money to buy from brands that establish a reputation for environmental stewardship. This is all good news! Because sustainability is good business!

I encourage more brands to talk about what they are doing sustainably and not be afraid of the backlash for what they aren’t doing. I want to use my voice to help brands take a risk and not be afraid of perfectionistic paralysis. Here’s one fact from our friends at the Global Fashion Agenda. The fashion industry accounts for 8% of the worlds CO2 (more than the flight and shipping industries together) and that means more CO2 in our atmosphere. The fact is, we will not be able to meet the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) goal of 2.5 F degrees increase in temperature on the planet if the fashion industry doesn’t change.

When we change fashion, we change everything. The time is now. I don’t want to wait for next season.

How do you live sustainably every day?

I use organic products in my home. I try to remember to use as little plastic as possible. I could do better here. My car is all electric and I walk when I can. When I buy groceries, I try to buy all my produce at the farmer’s markets in my area and no matter where I am I use my cloth bags or reuse plastic bags for items.

I am also aware of my clothing. I try not to wash things when they might not really need it. I wear and keep clothes for a long time. I keep my mind focused on the real cost of producing an item so that it has real value long term. I buy better!

Amber VallettaPhoto Credit: Craig McDea

What is your secret to looking so young?

I try to take good care of my health by eating well. Sleeping and working out five days a week. I am a big believer in hydration too!

What products do you swear by?

I think everyone is so different, so I can’t say what works for me will work for someone else. I do love active ingredients that aren’t too harsh. Lots of natural acids and skin brighteners.

You’ve been in the fashion industry for 30 years. What is the greatest lesson in fashion you’ve learned?

Be you and be willing to keep learning.

What has been your top career highlight?

A week shooting Versace with Richard Avedon.

What to you is the greatest luxury in life?

My health and mental wealth. It is a true luxury to share my blessings with my friends and family by having time to be present for those I love.

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