A force for good in fashion: Interview with Sandra Capponi

Posted on 25 June 2020

Melbourne girl and co-founder of the global digital platform Good on You, Sandra Capponi is a pioneering force in the field of sustainable fashion.

She was crowned one of the world's top-50 "badass women" last year by America’s InStyle magazine, alongside pop star Rihanna, 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg and Google CFO Ruth Porat. The list celebrates women from around the world who are driving change in fields such as science, social justice and politics.

The Good on You app rates thousands of fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton and H&M based on how ethical they are, and has attracted high profile ambassadors like actress Emma Watson.

We were lucky to interview Sandra on her ‘why’ and making decisions easier for conscious shoppers.  

1. Tell us about what lead you to set up the Good on You app?

We started Good on You back in 2015 because we realised more and more consumers were like us – they wanted to buy ethically, sustainably, but didn’t know where to start.

I’ve always loved fashion, but then stories of mass exploitation and waste behind the scenes of the major labels made me uncomfortable buying new clothes.

I was working in business, in corporate social responsibility, and my co-founder was a long-time consumer advocate researching shifting shopper trends. We decided to come together to use the power of consumer choices to change industry for the better, starting in fashion.

2. In a nutshell what does the Good on You do to help conscious shoppers?

Good on You is all about empowering shoppers to know the impact of brands and buy better. We rate fashion brands for their impact on people, the planet and animals.

We started as an app, launched in Australia. We’re now a global digital platform for mobile and web that people can use to search thousands of brand ratings, find out how their favourite brands stack up on sustainability, and discover better ones.

Our core brand rating system aggregates public company data on sustainability issues in fashion into a simple score to make it really easy for consumers to make more informed choices. 

The ratings are also useful for fashion businesses. Retailers especially use Good On You to assess, source and promote sustainable brands.

3. What kinds of things does Good on You look at to determine the impact and ratings of fashion brands?

We focus on the 3 areas of impact – people, planet, animals – because we know that’s what shoppers care about.

Within those impact areas we consider the most material issues in fashion. For people impacts, that includes whether workers are treated and paid fairly all the way down the supply chain. For the environment, we look at a brand’s resource, water and chemical use and climate change impacts. And for animals, it’s about which materials are used, how they’re sourced and if the welfare of animals is protected in the making of clothes.

The issues in fashion are notoriously complex, and the available information is often confusing. There’re hundreds of certifications in fashion alone.

Our aim is to bring together all the leading standards and sustainability indicators and make sense of it for shoppers. We evaluate and score all these indicators for each brand to arrive at a rating from 1 “We Avoid” to 5 “Great”.

4. Over the 5 years since Good on You’s inception, have you noticed a shift in awareness and appetite for sustainable fashion?

Definitely. Especially in the last couple of years, consumer awareness of the issues in fashion and their demand for more sustainable options is on the rise. We’re seeing that in the sheer growth and engagement of the Good on You community. There’s a great report from global fashion search platform Lyst which found that sustainability-related searches increased 75% last year; and 37% since this start of this year.

Consumer backlash against certain brand actions and support for campaigns like Fashion Revolution has really been building too. And the conversation is hitting the mainstream; from Instagram influencers to Vogue, everyone seems to talking about sustainable fashion.

5. Are you finding shoppers motivated more by social or environmental sustainability issues?

It often depends on the individual and the moment in time. Ethics and sustainability mean different things to different people, and there’s no right or wrong. Some of us think the environmental issues in fashion are the most pressing while others value the protection of people and animals above everything else. 

Recent events like the bushfires in Australia and of course the global pandemic have shone a light on some of the systemic issues in fashion – from pollution and overproduction to deep-seated inequality – sparking people’s concern and spurring them to act. So at Good on You we try to give people information to help them make choices that line up with their own values and priorities.

6. How many people have used or are using the app or website?

In the last 12 months we’ve reached close to 3 million people from all around the world across our mobile and web platforms. Over 350,000 shoppers use it every month. And numbers are growing really quickly. In the wake of COVID-19, our community seem even more motivated to search for, and buy from sustainable brands.

7. What key trends and innovations are you seeing amongst companies towards ethical and sustainable fashion? 

There are a number of new business models emerging in fashion, including rental and second-hand, that are redefining how we buy and consume clothes with potentially huge environmental benefits. Likewise, circularity in fashion is all about eliminating waste and recycling resources in a closed loop, instead of one-time use. Brands investing in these areas are paving the way for a more sustainable industry.

Vegan fashion is on the rise too, and there is much more that can be done to trace and protect animal welfare in fashion supply chains.

Unfortunately, during the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of brands pass the burden of their losses onto suppliers, cancelling billions of dollars-worth of orders with devastating impacts for millions of vulnerable garment workers across Bangladesh, India, China and Cambodia. Leading brands are working closely with suppliers, often in collaboration with other labels, to put their people first and think long term. There simply is no fashion industry without the very makers of our clothes. 

8. Can you share 3 top tips for those starting out on their sustainable fashion journey?

  • Firstly I would say that it’s okay to start small. Sustainability is a pathway, a process, it takes time for the industry to evolve, and for us too. A good place to start is to just stop and think. Think what you really need, and what really matters to you. Is it about caring for the people who made our clothes? Is about protecting our planet for future generations? Or is it about being vegan and avoiding harm to animals?
  • Secondly, consider if there are alternatives to buying something new. Maybe you can repair something in your wardrobe to give it a new life, or you could purchase something second-hand. This alone can be one of the most impactful choices you make on the issues you care about. 
  • And thirdly, if you do want to buy something new, choose mindfully - choose brands that match your style and your ethics, and that you will care for and cherish for a long time.  

Most of all I just like to encourage people to recognise that your actions really do matter. There’s a huge opportunity for us to come together and use the power of our choices to create a sustainable future in fashion.

Don't miss: Sandra will be joining Timothy Goh (The Social Outfit), eco stylist Alex van Os (Op Shop to Runway) with star moderator Clare Press (The Wardrobe Crisis) for a special sustainable fashion Q&A webinar – to unpack the issues in our collective wardrobes and how we can make better choices for a better world. Thursday 30 July, online. Book your free spot.

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