The green love story behind Amour Vert's Linda Balti and Christoph Frehsee.
"I wasn't a little girl dreaming of being a designer," said Linda Balti. In fact, before starting her eco-fashion line, her career was as different from making clothes as you can imagine. With masters degrees in computer science and synthetic environments, she first designed flight simulators and then later trained pilots on the simulators.
She met Christoph Frehsee, who is now her husband, at a trade show in Abu Dhabi. Frehsee was an engineer with a background in development, who built a machine that enables the safe clearing of landmines.
When Frehsee had the opportunity to sell his company in 2008, the couple decided to take time to travel. It was during their trip that Balti read that the fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world, second only to oil production.
"I've always been pretty eco-conscious," Balti explained. She grew up eating organic and being careful to avoid waste. "But when I bought clothes, I never thought about where they came from."
She realized that she wanted to change how she consumed fashion, but found that most eco-brands in 2008 were too casual for her Parisian taste. "I thought, 'I want to wear it and I'm probably not the only one.' "
The couple relocated to Palo Alto, to be near Stanford University where Frehsee pursued a dual MBA/Environmental Resources degree. Balti founded Amour Vert in 2009 and designed a launch collection with just five pieces. When Frehsee graduated, he joined as the company's CEO. He jokes that Balti (and his professors) were kind enough to let him intern for Amour Vert before graduating. "I interviewed with other companies, but it didn't feel right."
Balti describes her line as Paris-chic-meets-California-cool. "It's a blend of my old and new life," she said. The couple says that style serves as a "Trojan horse" for sustainable clothes, attracting buyers with style first.
All of Amour Vert's garments are made in San Francisco, from fabrics like organic cotton and modal, a wood-based fiber they source from a sustainably-managed forest in Austria. Frehsee says he wishes all their materials could be sourced in the U.S., however as other eco-conscious brands have found, the desired textiles are not always available locally.
Nonetheless, Balti said that sustainability is almost always the last thing she's willing to sacrifice. For shipping fabric, Amour Vert uses ocean freight, although this can slow production. To minimize waste, multiple styles of garments will be cut from the same sheet of fabric. They found biodegradable bags to use for shipping. If a color can't be obtained from a non-toxic process, they won't use that color. "If I can't do it sustainably, I don't do it," says Balti.
The couple is eager to share what they've learned with other clothing makers, and would be thrilled if bigger brands would adopt their techniques. "We want to be a catalyst," said Frehsee. "Our competition is not other eco-brands."
Balti agreed. "We are on a mission to make eco-fashion understandable."
Amour Vert's Spring 2014 collection will be available online in January.