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Amber Valletta’s Green Manifesto: The 90’s Supermodel Talks About Her Conscious Accessories Collection For Karl Lagerfeld

She was one of the first to raise her voice for a more sustainable and eco-friendly approach to fashion, and shared her concerns with Karl Lagerfeld. The actress looks carefully at the big break for sustainability in the fashion industry. With good reason?

By Cecile Delarue  May 18th, 2021

Of course, she looks glowing and perfectly natural even in the dullest light of a laptop cam. No makeup, coffee in hand and determination all over her, Amber Valletta smiles as she repeats again and again why she thinks fashion should change its ways and take the big leap to eco-sustainability. Yes, she’s been advocating for the planet for years now, but no, she’s not going to stop—even if things finally seem to change, and the industry seems to be able to hear. Calm and focused, Amber is all about pragmatism: changing the way we interact on the planet is just a daily, simple task. One thing at a time. But first, coffee.

ELLE: How did this sustainable accessory capsule collection K/Kushion for Karl Lagerfeld come about?

Amber Valletta (AV): When I had my own business called Master & Muse, in partnership with YOOX.com, I wanted to do collaborations and thought Karl would have been the perfect person to start with. He was such an innovator. I pitched him my idea of a sustainable collection. He was enthusiastic and connected me to Pier Paolo (Righi), the CEO of KARL LAGERFELD. They were willing to make it work, but ultimately, we weren’t really set up to produce clothing yet. Unfortunately, the collaboration didn’t happen at that time despite everyone’s enthusiasm. However, Pier and I stayed in contact and developed a friendship. Right before COVID, he asked me if I’d like to come back to this collaboration. I said: absolutely! I have a long history and legacy with Karl.

Amber Valletta

ELLE: Was it hard to convince Karl and talk to him back then about eco-consciousness?

AV: Karl was an innovator. Though he didn’t know a lot about the specifics of sustainability, his mind was open. He knew enough about what was going on in the world. Karl was always aware of what was happening in and out of the fashion business. It wasn’t like I had to convince him. He heard it and he got it immediately. I think intuitively, he knew that it would be a cool, modern approach to design.

ELLE: When did your ecological consciousness awaken? What were the triggering factors?

AV: I grew up in Oklahoma (US), and I spent most of my childhood outside in nature. I have always felt connected to the natural world. I remember being really young and advocating for the planet. I was always kind of looking for a bigger meaning, I guess, in life. My mother also had an enormous impact on my value system. She was a bit of an activist. My mother, along with many other activists stopped a power plant from being built very close to my hometown, on Native American land. My early years of experiencing and witnessing this work definitely instilled in me the power of activism.

Amber Valletta

ELLE: When did you start seeing a link between your environmental awareness and fashion?

AV: It was a slow progression. I knew in the ’90s that something wasn’t connecting for me in the fashion industry, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Back then, we were using film, a lot of paper, and chemicals to produce magazines. And something felt off. Around this time, Al Gore started to talk about climate change. I could understand it and relate to it. This prompted me to start studying environmental issues at NYU. Then when I had my son, I really put my focus on environmental justice in a way that went much deeper. A few facts started coming out about fashion such as child labour or poor working conditions. People were throwing dyes in the rivers. Things started slowly trickling out and I just started making the connections. I knew then, I was going to focus on helping change the way we view sustainability as an industry and as customers.

ELLE: How do you see this wave of eco-consciousness? Isn’t it sometimes purely marketing?

AV: The more people are talking about it, the better it is. Of course, there’s green-washing, but the way the world works today, people are getting exposed very quickly. We need to lift each other up and share what we’re doing, even if it’s small. This promotes change. Even if a brand is just doing it, because they are following the trend, inevitably, they have to stay on a path of sustainability because it is too exposing not to. When you know about the problems by not becoming a more sustainable business it’s hard to turn your back on it and not be a part of the solution. That’s the reason why we keep talking about it to wake people up. People in and out of the fashion industry are more aware and that’s the whole point.

Amber Valletta

ELLE: How did you co-build up the K/Kushion bag collection for Karl Lagerfeld?

AV: The K/Kushion was originally an iconic bag for Karl. It meant something to him. He had a cushion that he carried around all his life, since his childhood. We started with the design of the K/Kushion bag and then, they sent me the materials and we discussed them. We had many discussions about the sustainability components and design of our collaboration. It has been a wonderful experience exploring this creative project together with KL.

ELLE: What is your impression of the two eco-friendly materials used?

AV: I’m super impressed with the cactus leather. It’s a fantastic fabric. It’s from a cactus plant, and the great thing about it, is that no irrigation is needed, obviously. No water. And you can harvest a branch without killing the plant. It can regenerate itself. It’s also cultivated without chemicals like herbicides or pesticides. So, they’re all natural, biodegradable, animal-free and naturally dyed. The bags are coloured with organic pigments. It really feels like leather! It’s not flimsy. And then, the second K/Kushion style is made from 90 per cent recycled cotton. It’s a summery colour; a sandy light beige. It’s really a nice material as well. It’s obviously easy to break down and if you really want to upcycle it, you can because it’s mostly cotton material. We designed from the get-go with that in mind.

Amber Valletta

ELLE: How did you feel seeing your name next to Karl’s on the first prototypes?

AV: When I received the first proposals for the co-branding and saw our names together, I was very touched and even emotional. Karl and I had so much history together. I am so honoured that the KL brand has entrusted me with the very important sustainable collaboration!

ELLE: Karl Lagerfeld was one of the first to sign the fashion pact in 2019. What’s left of it?

AV: Since, it has been signed by more than 60 global fashion brands as a commitment to building a more sustainable future in the areas of climate, oceans and biodiversity. The profits generated from the sale of this capsule collection will be donated to the Ocean Clean Up that supports the goals of the Fashion Pact, which continues its momentum.

ELLE: You’ve been advocating for the environment for two decades now. How do you see yourself in twenty years?

AV: I don’t know! Hopefully, I’ll have some grandbabies. We’ll be playing outside. I see myself lobbying for social justice and environmental justice. However, I am hopeful we won’t need to advocate so much for these subjects! Fingers crossed!

Photographs: Rozzi Mary