Anne Fontaine and her daughters at home in Honfleur, France

 
   
 
  The Brazilian rainforest, where Fontaine’s foundation will plant trees

Anne Fontaine’s passion for natural textiles and great design—not to mention her entrepreneurial spirit—has helped her parlay a single white shirt with a certain je ne sais quoi into a globe-spanning fashion empire. Soon her holdings will also include a spa at her Madison Avenue boutique, which will introduce the Anne Fontaine line of French organic bath and beauty products to the US. Born in Brazil, where she studied biology and lived with the Canela Indians in the Amazon, Fontaine began her life in fashion when she traveled to France and fell in love with design.

Today, as she celebrates the birth of her third child with her husband and business partner, Ari Zlotkin, she is more aware than ever of the pressures, both acute and chronic, that threaten the environment. And so, with her signature resourcefulness—she created her first fashion designs to spur the foundering shirt manufacturing business belonging to her husband’s family—she has partnered with the Nature Conservancy to launch a Brazilian rainforest reforestation project and conservation foundation.

Through Christine Dutreil, the executive director of the New York-based Anne Fontaine Foundation, Fontaine spoke about her time in the Amazon and in the Mata Atlantica, located in Bahia, along the Atlantic. “The tamarins and mangroves were magical,” she says. “The people adopted me. But their way of life was hard and everywhere there was poverty. I wanted to do something.”

“Bahia,” Fontaine says, “is the most endangered region as well as the most biologically diverse, and new species there are still being discovered. The ecosystem is delicate with highly acidic soil, so there are not many crops that can be successfully grown.”

Through the efforts of Dutreil and members of the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign, the foundation has partnered with a Brazilian NGO, Instituto Floresta Viva, to create nurseries (and jobs), where seedlings are cultivated until they are hardy enough to be replanted in the Mata Atlantica. The foundation’s goal is to plant one million trees, and they’ve pledged to support local initiatives for the next five years.

“I’ve been working in fashion for nearly 20 years,” Fontaine says. “The environment is my passion; now it is my time to give back. I want my children to live in a greener world.”

Fontaine headquartered the foundation in New York because private philanthropy is a major part of cultural life in the US. The foundation launched this past October 20 on the inaugural Anne Fontaine Forest Day. As part of the initiative, the designer debuted a featherweight EcoBag, made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles and featuring the foundation’s logo, available at Anne Fontaine stores and online to benefit the organization. “It was so successful!” Fontaine says of the event, at which 50 percent of retail sales were donated to the foundation. “Giving back, it’s a very American sensibility, no?” 110 Greene St., 212-343-3150

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