Amber wears banana print top by Chloe and jeans by MIH
Amber wears cream knit by Ganni and jeans by Levis 501
Amber Valletta wants to be clear about something from the start…she is not the voice or face of fashion sustainability. She is not a leader, and she is not an expert – no matter how determined many people have been to pin those labels on her. However, that is not to say that she isn’t happy to be part of the discussion. Encourage the discussion even, or in fact, sometimes, even lead the discussion. Loudly. On the streets, in boardrooms, on the pages of magazines, at universities, and in the manufacturing factories she has visited.
“As soon as I get pigeon-holed, it makes me want to squirm and move in another direction,” Valletta says in an early morning call from LA. The proof of that is evident in her physical recoil from the mere suggestion that she is considered ‘the voice’. “Obviously I am not moving out of this, but I am very wary of titles. I have had people call me a leader, and I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but I want to be very careful. Sustainability is an ever-evolving subject, there are so many innovations, solutions, and so, so many issues that we have to work on. I am constantly educating myself, and I have a platform that isn’t even very big, or loud, but I am determined to use that to bring awareness.”
Yet fashion has been determined to make her the sustainable movement figurehead. In 2020, Edward Enninful announced Valletta as the Contributing Sustainability Editor of Vogue, and in early 2021, the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York named her Sustainability Ambassador. Perhaps because fashion loves an icon to follow, but more likely because Valletta is no longer simply a Supermodel and actress (both roles that she has aced), but is now an actual force for change, and an inspiring one at that. Modestly she credits long standing friendships for both appointments. One with Enninful who she has been close friends with “well, forever, we grew up together,” the other with a member of the Board at FIT, who she had been working with on other projects before it evolved into something bigger, and she takes both roles very seriously. In March 2020, she lay out her manifesto in Vogue, suggesting 10 things we can do to live a more eco-friendly life, including ‘Reduce, Revamp and Recycle: The fashion industry produces an average of 100 billion pieces of clothing annually, with only 7.7 billion people on earth. Buy for long-term style not short-term trends, repair damage, shop vintage. Lastly, don’t bin clothes! Donate or use a designated textile recycling bin’, and ‘Take Ownership: You are responsible for the impact of your choices. Make mindful, conscious purchases, because there is a hidden environmental or human cost to almost everything we buy. Our power lies in the pause before we reach for our wallets’. Not that for a minute she thinks that that will fix everything immediately, but is keen for us all to admit that we all have a part to play in this, we are all part of the problem, and all part of the solution.
“I think we are still blinded by greed,” she says when asked if she has seen any changes in the fashion industry since sustainability has taken centre stage. “I can even say that I take responsibility for my own greed. Because that is the thing that keeps this whole billion-dollar industry going, and I think that a lot of us need to be looking at how much is enough, and how much more do we all actually need?”
Valletta admits to not buying a lot of fashion herself, preferring to shop for vintage as it is more like a treasure hunt. She has special pieces by Halston and Ossie Clark that she bought in her 20s, but now she just seeks out vintage Levi’s. In fact, she finds shopping boring, and surprisingly, given her job and all, she hates trying clothes on.
Amber wears white cotton dress by Doen
Valletta entered the world of fashion aged just 15, when her mother enrolled her in modelling school, and over her 32 years and counting career, she has worked with the best. So much so, that when asked for her favourite moment, she laughs and admits it would be impossible, before listing some of the most iconic names in fashion…Galliano, Yves Saint Laurent, Helmut Newton, Irving Penn (or Mr Penn as she calls him), Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel and Avedon, who she shot with for a week on her own, and he gifted her prints of the images. At 47, (though today, straight from the shower, with wet hair and no make-up she looks much, much younger), she’s had, and continues to have, the most phenomenal career, now picking and choosing the fashion shows, or editorials, that she creatively wants to do. But her main focus going forward is that there has to be a connection to sustainability, and she is getting behind the scenes to understand it all and see it for herself.
“When I visited clothing factories,” she says, her voice immediately raising in frustration. “The waste is so staggering that it gave me stress dreams for days. One time I literally had to stop and cry in order to begin to process it. It is one thing to intellectually know it and see pictures, it is quite another to see it in person. But I only saw the tip of the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg.”