A shining vision at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Amber Valletta proves that beauty comes from within.
After 20-odd years in front of the camera, the devoted mother breathes new life into the eco-fashion movement. Jenni Kayne finds out how she does it all.
There comes a day when you start to think twice about what you are wearing: What, exactly, are nylon and polyester? Who made this? For Amber Valletta, those questions incentivized her mission to promote responsibly made, fashion-forward lines. Last fall, she dovetailed her modeling career with the launch of Master & Muse, a multi-brand online marketplace. Here, Valletta sits down with L.A. designer Jenni Kayne to discuss the new way forward.
JK: Tell me about the premise of Master & Muse.
AV: We look at how people source and produce their clothing and accessories. Do they have integrity? Are they collaborative? Innovative? Are they spreading awareness? This is the lens we use to vet a brand. And it’s not just about the environment. It’s about the human issue too: losing jobs to Third World countries and those countries not having great labor laws or enough safety requirements. People are getting sick and dying. Fashion should be fun. It’s creative. It’s a way to express ourselves and through creativity we can bring about amazing change.
JK: When did you become so passionate about this?
AV: My mom was an environmental activist in Oklahoma. She protested to stop a nuclear power plant from being built when I was a child. My grandparents also had a farm, so I was always out in the country. I saw the importance and the value of respecting the land and what it means to fight for it. As I got older, I tried to figure out what I could do of service that has meaning to me, combined with what I’m good at. Work can’t be just about money. It has to be about making your life better and other lives better. Don’t you think?
JK: Yes, especially at this point in our lives. As moms we want to live in a healthy responsible way and think about the future.
AV: That’s how this whole thing started. I knew my roots and what I care about. When you become a mother, you think about what you are leaving behind for your children, other children and future generations.
JK: So your company is a mix of designers who manufacture responsibly and use eco-friendly fabrics?
AV: More often than not, brands we choose do a multitude of things. We work with designers who use leather like Clare Vivier. But we only buy pieces that are naturally tanned, and she is lining them with organic fabrics for us. We know she produces locally and pays her workers fairly, and obviously the style component is there. We work with M. Patmos too, and not everything she makes is 100% eco-friendly. It is partly because we respect that she has made an effort to get other brands and other people in fashion to design more responsibly—like her fish-scale collaboration with Manolo Blahnik. We recognize people and designers who are making an effort as much as those who are using nontoxic materials.
JK: They are doing the best they can. That’s how I live my life. It may seem silly, but I cut out plastic in our house. No plastic water bottles—we reuse glass bottles. It’s something so little, but to me it’s something you can do every day. Imagine the amount of waste we were creating in our house. It’s where I can make a small difference. Do you feel like you are alone in your efforts, or do you think everybody is looking in a similar direction?
AV: By launching the online store, I do feel like I have stepped out in front a little bit. But I certainly am not going to take credit for the movement because there are people who have been at this for so long. The owner of Patagonia has been talking about this for years. I’m willing to say this matters and to use the power of my image and my voice to instigate the conversation and really be out there. It’s certainly not new news, but I can definitely say that I have been taking a risk.
JK: Yes. We’ve tried to move most of our manufacturing to local factories. I still make my shoes in Italy, which is a super-old-school operation—a mom-and-pop. It is not at all what you picture happening in other parts of the world. Letting people know where they can responsibly produce won’t affect your business in a negative way. Who wouldn’t want to do that if they had the resources?
AV: And when you are sourcing and producing the right way, you are eliminating a lot of problems. When you do not pay people fairly, you keep them poor.
JK: Do you do all the buying for the site?
AV: Yes. We partnered with Yoox. They run the shopping platform. We work with their buyers, but we pick everything. Spring is amazing. We have double the inventory and double the number of designers.
JK: Who are you particularly excited about?
AV: Svilu-—I actually found them when I was judging the Eco Challenge for Lexus and the CFDA. They are two really cool young girls from New York. Jenni, you would love them—they are very clean, simple and modern with great silhouettes. Also, Vitamin A, a swimwear line based in Laguna Beach that incorporates sustainable fibers like Tencel.
JK: As a California girl and a California brand, my overall sensibility is rooted here. Living in Los Angeles, we’re exposed to eating well, growing our own food, and so many different environmental issues. How much do you think it influences you?
AV: I am based here too and definitely feel like this is a California brand with an elegant, laid-back feel. I hear a lot of conversations that California is paving the way in environmental issues. It certainly is an easy topic here. Jenni, I think we should collaborate.
JK: How about naturally tanned D’orsay flats?