Putting the Everyday in Earth Day: Amour Vert’s Sustainable Everyday Basics post image

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Putting the Everyday in Earth Day: Amour Vert’s Sustainable Everyday Basics

Often when we think of innovation in fashion, we think of cutting-edge designs, cool new pop-ups or unexpected collabs. But what about upending the conventional clothing supply chain? It’s rife with energy inefficiencies, pollution issues and even human rights concerns. It’s a serious drain on the environment—from thread production right down to garment manufacturing and distribution. As Earth Day approaches, now’s as good a time as any to discover creative clothing companies that are challenging the unsustainable status quo. Enter Amour Vert.

Amour Vert—French for “green love”—was founded by the wife-husband team of Linda Balti and Cristoph Frehsee, who met in 2007 at a defense industry conference in Abu Dhabi. Cristoph, who’d just sold his landmine-clearing company, convinced Linda, an engineer working on fighter-jet simulators, to take a leap of faith: quit her job in France and backpack around the world. “And at that time we were not engaged. We were just dating,” says Linda. “I was like, ‘That’s a bit crazy, but let’s do it.'”

“One day in Peru I was on a beach, and I had grabbed a Newsweek that someone left there, and it was a whole article about fashion and how polluting it is, how unsustainable and unethical it was. And the article was talking about rivers being polluted in China and workers, especially female workers, not being paid a fair wage. And that was actually the first time I was reading about that. So I kind of knew [fast fashion brands] produce cheap stuff, but I never really stopped and thought about that T-shirt I’m wearing. ‘Where did it come from? Who made it? How much was she paid?’ And that was really, for me, a turning point.”

“I wasn’t planning on starting a fashion brand. I just wanted to develop beautiful, sustainable fabrics that other people could use.”

After globetrotting for a year, the couple moved to the Bay Area in 2009 so Cristoph could pursue an MBA in Environment and Resources at Stanford. No longer living out of a backpack, Linda began to look for ethically made clothes to fill out her California wardrobe—and hit a wall. “I was like, ‘Okay, well, time to shop now.’ But I couldn’t really find anything. It was either a luxury price point like Stella McCartney and Organic by John Patrick—like, super-nice things, but higher-price-point luxury—or it was itchy hemp sweatshirts. Even organic cotton wasn’t soft cotton. It was sort of the beginning of the whole sustainable fashion movement, and there were only, like, tiny little brands. I come from Paris. I love, love, love fashion. I like beautiful things, you know? And I was just super frustrated. I was like, ‘Why is no one doing something? That’s crazy.'”

So Linda began researching ecologically sound fabrication methods and developing her own renewable-fiber blends: Tencel and modal made of eucalyptus and beech trees. In both softness and style, these sumptuous new materials far surpassed the rough, grainy organic cotton and hemp fabrics that defined the sustainable-fiber market at the time.

“I wasn’t planning on starting a fashion brand,” says Linda. “I just wanted to develop beautiful, sustainable fabrics that other people could use. But very quickly I realized that if I was managing the whole supply chain, and I was creating the fabrics, I would also need to design the garments and sell them. And that’s how the idea of starting a brand was born.

“I worked with a textiles engineer in L.A., and we started playing with fibers and blending organic cotton with poly fibers, bamboo and wood fibers, and we came up with some really, really soft fabrics for T-shirts. And I just developed—I’m not a designer, but I know what a good T-shirt should look like—I just designed a couple T-shirts and went to my first trade show.”

And voilà—Amour Vert was suddenly a clothing brand with serious cachet, attracting excited buyers from the country’s top retail stores, including Nordstrom.

“We started being known for making supersoft T-shirts and planting a tree for every T-shirt we sell,” explains Linda, alluding to Amour Vert’s partnership with American Forests, which has helped plant more than 130,000 trees in U.S. forests so far.  “And it was going super, super well. But the mission was really to raise awareness around what’s happening in the world with fashion and the impact of fashion, and I felt the wholesale channel was not giving me this opportunity. So I changed strategy. We became direct-to-consumer. We’re not doing wholesale anymore. We are actually exclusive at Nordstrom, and then we sell through our own e-commerce and retail stores.”

“We just try to do everything in a very smart way to be able to pass on all the savings to our customers and not hit them with a simple T-shirt at a premium price.”

Why Nordstrom? “Nordstrom shares the same sustainability guidelines as we do. I think out of all the department stores, [Nordstrom has] always been the one that genuinely cares about the environment. And also just being very supportive of the brand from very early on when I was just a tiny brand and believed in the products, and the buyers believed in the products. And I think the Nordstrom customer, she loves our tops. There’s this top that we cannot keep in stock for you guys. It’s called Agnes—a surplice top. I don’t even know if you have any right now! You know, supersoft wood-pulp fiber. And there’s the Francoise. It’s a striped top. It’s super soft, very classic. I think those two—Francoise and Agnes—are our bestsellers at Nordstrom.”

The Francoise, Agnes and Casey are all top sellers in the line. Not only are they soft, timeless pieces that work in most wardrobes, but they’re priced well below anything Stella McCartney can offer up. The Francoise long-sleeve tee sells for $88—a pretty incredible price tag given the amount of effort it’s taken to invent an eco-friendly supply chain from the ground up.

“We’re also very smart in the way we design, and we try to have zero waste,” says Linda. “You’ll see sometimes with our garments a seam through the back, and the only reason why the seam would be there is because, when we started doing the markers, it was more efficient, and we were wasting less fabric. So it’s about really utilizing every single piece of fabric as much as we can so we don’t waste, and our designs are engineered that way as much as possible. We just try to do everything in a very smart way to be able to pass on all the savings to our customers and not hit them with a simple T-shirt at a premium price.”

The San Francisco–based company is also minimizing its carbon footprint by retaining all operations within California. “My fabrics are made in L.A. Everything is cut and sewn here in the Bay Area, and the transportation is very, very limited. I try to not ship a product three times around the world before it gets to the customer, because that’s actually really bad. We’re staying as close as we can to where the customer is.”

Amour Vert’s six retail stores are also in California—but Linda sees plenty of room for growth on the horizon, especially as awareness of sustainable manufacturing spreads. “The U.S. is such an easy market, and it’s a huge market, and we haven’t saturated that market yet. We still have so many more opportunities in the U.S. We haven’t even touched the tip of it!”

SHOP: Amour Vert