Sustaining Sustainability

Amber Valletta on Balenciaga Runway

Sustainability and innovation—especially as they impact the creative industries—are at the heart of FIT’s strategic mission. These core ideals are reflected in our academic programs, our physical environment, and our campus culture. FIT faculty and students work together to embrace and create innovative materials, invent alternative methodologies, and make the world better for generations to come. As a large urban campus, we ensure that our infrastructure, architecture, and operations integrate sustainable practices. Since becoming the first institution to meet—and exceed—the 2007 Mayor’s Carbon Challenge, we have continued to reduce our carbon footprint while expanding our other sustainability initiatives, from installing green roofs to using healthier construction materials to improving campus recycling. 

To further support these efforts, we have established two broad sets of initiatives: increasing community awareness of sustainability and expanding sustainability education. In addition, we created the role of FIT sustainability ambassador. In 2021 we asked Amber Valletta—a celebrated supermodel who holds the record for the most U.S. Vogue covers in history—to be the first to hold this title.

“It has been incredibly inspiring to witness how FIT students are innovating and thinking about solutions to solve big problems.”

Bringing sustainability to the world

Valletta’s ambassadorship is a natural extension of her ongoing contributions to FIT. In addition to her storied modeling and acting career, she has found extraordinary success as an activist and social impact entrepreneur and has given her time, voice, and energy to issues of sustainable fashion. As sustainability ambassador, Valletta works closely with the college community, alumni, and partners, and serves on the FITFoundation board.

Each spring since 2006, the Sustainability Council at FIT has hosted the Sustainable Business and Design Conference. The event provides a platform for collaboration and discussion throughout the creative industries, highlighting advances in sustainable design and thought leadership. Environmental and social challenges and potential solutions are explored through innovative student projects, cross-institutional research, and industry partnerships. In recent years, breakout sessions have included topics such as farm-to-fashion, textile development, sustainable fashion supply chain, mindfulness in design, and packaging materials and recycling. The wide-ranging program features keynote speakers, panels, and projects that delve into pressing issues and exciting developments in the field.

In 2019 Valletta delivered the conference’s keynote speech; for 2021’s Sustainability Awareness Week, she moderated a roundtable discussion among previous FIT winners of the Biodesign Challenge, an international competition for students who partner with scientists, artists, and designers to envision and critique transformational applications in biotech. The discussion focused on the significance of biotechnology in fashion, how brands can incorporate sustainable materials into their products, and how biotechnology will impact the future of fashion.

In addition to mentoring Biodesign Challenge students, Valletta is active in recruiting industry mentors, spearheading fundraising efforts for the FIT Sustainability Fund, and planning the 2022 Sustainable Business and Design Conference. She hosted the FIT Foundation board’s 2019 and 2021 awards galas, both of which were focused on sustainable solutions and innovation, and she has donated a percentage of her contract fee with Zara/Inditex to FIT’s Sustainability Fund. Established in 2018, the Sustainability Fund supports the work of students who are developing scientific and design solutions to the most critical environmental issues. Donations made to the fund are dispersed across curricula, student initiatives, research, and community engagement.

Blending her love of fashion with her deeply held values led to the launch of Master & Muse by Amber Valletta, a premier online store offering stylish, cutting-edge, responsibly made fashion that is created and produced by sustainable designers. A sought-after speaker at global conferences about fashion and sustainability, she works with international organizations and events such as the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award, Sustainable Brands Conference, and SXSW Eco. Valletta also lends her mentorship to the CFDA Sustainable Fashion Initiative and is on the advisory boards of Cradle to Cradle (Fashion +), Environmental Media Association, and Nest. She co-founded A Squared Films LLC, producing projects intended to inspire social change as well as to educate and entertain.

“FIT is providing the necessary education and critical thinking that will support the next generation of fashion leaders.””

Bringing sustainability education to students

FIT offers many courses and programs that focus on sustainability, such as Sustainability in Fashion Merchandising, Ethics and Sustainability, Sustainable Packaging, International Corporate Responsibility, and more. The college also offers various sustainability-related extracurricular activities, including the Ethics and Sustainability Club, Sustainability Council, and Student Government Association–sponsored initiatives. Current and past projects include developing sustainable textiles, participating in the annual Biodesign Challenge, promoting environmentally friendly dyeing practices, a student-run program to install and maintain beehives on the college’s rooftop, and the Loop for Good, a sustainable fashion clothing swap that promotes fashion industry circularity and encourages consumers to reuse and recycle.

Amber Valletta on Balenciaga Runway



What inspired your commitment to social activism? 

I was raised by my mother, who instilled in me the value of service and activism for one’s community. I have always believed that helping to serve the greater good is more important than anything else we can do in life. 

What inspired your commitment to sustainable fashion activism? 

Over the course of my career and life experience, I learned too much about the negative impacts of the fashion industry, both environmentally and on a human level, to not become part of the solution. Fashion is one of the most profitable, opportunity-rich, and influential industries, and I saw its immense potential for creating impactful social and environmental justice. So for me, there was no other way to continue working than to lead with the values I knew to be right. It is the responsibility of fashion business leaders to help meet the difficult challenges of our time, and to make things better for future generations. 

How do you think FIT can make a difference in the area of sustainability?

FIT is providing the necessary education and critical thinking that will support the next generation of fashion leaders to create a more sustainable fashion industry. The specific classes and opportunities that are available at FIT center around the very things that make fashion thrive: creativity and innovation.How and why did you first become involved with the FIT Foundation board?

I felt it was the right time for me to be a part of a board that was directly affecting the future offashion. I was delighted to begin working with a prestigious college like FIT.

Fundraising is an important part of your responsibilities as FIT’s first official sustainability ambassador. How do you motivate potential donors to give to the FIT Sustainability Fund? What is your core message? 

This is a pretty complex question, as different donors are motivated by different factors. I would say my core strategy is simply to act on my own beliefs to influence change, and by doing so, to persuade others about their ability to make a difference via their own methods … one of which is monetary contribution.

What specific, positive changes have you already seen in the creative industries as a result of FIT’s sustainability efforts?

I have seen some extraordinary innovation come out of the biodesign work being done at FIT. The students and professors have developed some amazing innovations in materials that—if able to scale—could help the industry eliminate many harmful materials that don’t biodegrade. 

On a personal level, what impact has your affiliation with FIT had on your thinking, your professional direction, your interests? 

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate and learn from the students, educators, and the entire FIT community. I think about how my connections to folks in fashion and in the world of activism can contribute to FIT, and I use my affiliation with the college as another filter for all my work and activism. It has been incredibly inspiring to witness how FIT students are innovating and thinking about solutions to solve big problems.