June 14, 2018
Whether we are aware of it or not, every purchase choice we make has real value attached to it. It is a conscious (or subconscious) vote for how we want our world to be. What we choose to buy has an immense impact on how businesses treat people, materials, the planet and animals.
This week we caught up with Sandra Capponi and Gordon Renouf, the founders of Good On You. An app on a mission to create a world where people’s shopping choices drive businesses to be sustainable and fair.
Gordon: Sandra and I started Good On You because we believe that every consumer choice makes a difference. Our vision is a world where consumer choices drive businesses to be sustainable and fair. That’s only possible if consumers have comprehensive, easy to use information that helps them find products they love from brands they feel good buying from.
Sandra and I come from different backgrounds - I’ve worked in consumer advocacy for 25 years, mostly in charities and non-government organisations; I wanted to combine my commitment to strengthening consumer’s rights with my passion for justice and sustainability. Creating tools to empower consumers to act on their right to live sustainably and ethically was the obvious answer.
Sandra: I spent many years working in the corporate sector, in supply chain management and CSR, trying to push the social responsibility of businesses from within. But a few years ago I started to think about the responsibility I have as an individual, and the role that each of us can play to change things for the better, just by the everyday choices we make — including the apparel we buy. There’s a huge opportunity to use the power of shoppers to transform the industry for good.
Gordon: For me right now luxury means creating more time to get things done! But that’s pretty much impossible right? So, when it comes to products, I’m looking for something that is incredibly functional - “it just works” - has an appealing aesthetic or user interface, and one that has been made in a way that is truly sustainable.
Sandra: Lots of people think of fashion when they think of luxury. And that’s a good thing. Fashion should be something we value and cherish, not consume and discard absentmindedly. That’s definitely how it is for me - luxury means something is really unique and precious. It’s treasured for a long time, so sustainability is at the core. I’d love to get to a point where it’s normal for sustainability to be an integral part of how we define luxury.
Gordon: I used to work at Australia’s leading consumer organisation, CHOICE. We partnered with Amnesty International to study how companies in the toy industry were doing on human rights issues including child labour. There wasn’t much good news at that time however. That was certainly one of the experiences that lead me to help create Good On You.
Sandra: I was lucky enough to work on projects supporting Indigenous community development in Australia, something that I’m very passionate about. For some time I was based in a remote Aboriginal community, in the Kimberley. I learnt so much about one of the world’s oldest cultures that has had to overcome lots of troubles, but respects people and the land like nothing else. It cemented that I wanted to do something to preserve what’s really important and made me think really deeply about how I could use my business skills to do that.
Gordon: Many of the important social and environmental problems of the world today are created by our shopping choices. The kinds of clothes that are made, what they are made of, who makes them, is ultimately determined by what we as consumers are willing to buy. By empowering shoppers to choose products and brands that match their values we can create change. As Anne Lappe says, “every time we spend money we vote for the kind of world we want.” For most shoppers the ideal is to buy the stuff they need, but for no harm to be caused to people, planet and animals. By making it easy for consumers to find and choose better brands, we can influence what gets bought and ultimately impact the way our clothes are made.
“every time we spend money we vote for the kind of world we want.”
Globally, one in six people work in the apparel sector - 80 per cent of them are women. Labour abuses and factory disasters are common. A $2.5 trillion industry, fashion is also one of the most polluting in the world. It’s responsible for 24 per cent of the world’s pesticide use and is a major contributor to climate change and water pollution. These are big problems, but there are many people and organisations working on them. We believe that Good On You can help consumers be an integral part of the solution.
Sandra: The fashion industry simply can’t keep going on the way that is it. Exploitation of people and resources is not only unjust, but simply can’t be sustained. And more and more people are stopping to take notice.
I imagine a future where people everywhere are using Good On You as second nature to make shopping decisions based on the things that matter most to them. From discovering the latest trends and finding a bargain-buy, to making sure no women or children were exploited in the making of their clothes. And ultimately, I imagine a future where fashion brands are totally transparent about how they make their products while living up to the ethical standards that each of us expect. So yes, I believe the future of fashion can be, and has to be, sustainable!
"imagine a future where fashion brands are totally transparent about how they make their products while living up to the ethical standards that each of us expect."
Gordon: I’m a pretty simple dresser. For the last few years my Nudie Jeans have been my go to staple, but I’m not sure I’d call them a classic (yet!). I’ve been using a canvas briefcase from In Jirushi - a tiny Japanese brand - for about ten years, it’s simplicity and style really appeals to me.
Sandra: For my 18th birthday my mother gave me a ring that she’d refashioned from her original wedding band and a diamond earring where she’d lost the other pair. I’ve worn it every day ever since and I hope to pass it on one day to somebody else dear to me. It symbolises many things I really value - family, creativity, preservation, continuity, beauty. It’s so unique and precious to me and will definitely stand the test of time. The epitome of luxury.
Sandra: I’m from Melbourne and I’ve recently discovered new local labels like A.BCH and Lois Hazel. I absolutely love them for their simple yet beautifully crafted and elegant designs, and that are super transparent about how they made their clothes.
But the last thing I bought was actually a backpack from Swedish label Sanqvist. I’m currently working in Amsterdam getting ready to launch Good On You in Europe and decided I needed to do as the locals do and get around on a bike with my gear on my back! I found this bag in a gorgeous little store in Haarlemmerbuurt, called Restored, which got my attention for its sturdy yet refined look. It ticked all the functional boxes too, it was black with a laptop slip, side pockets and good overall size. But the label is what really drew me in - 100% organic cotton canvas sourced directly from the farmers, vegetable tanned leather flap for water protection, made under good working conditions for all its workers and suppliers, and it was called the ‘Alva’.
The owner of the store caught me looking and chimed in with “they’re really great bags”. He went to the back of the store and pulled out another bag he owed by the same label, but purchased years ago to show me how well it aged and actually looked better over time. To me there’s nothing better than a quality piece with a good story to tell. I’m now a big fan of getting around on a bike and plan on continuing the trend when I get back home. With my new favourite accessory, of course.
Gordon: It’s not just about making existing ethical fashion more accessible; it’s about creating the conditions where all fashion brands and their suppliers understand that they need to be (more) sustainable and ethical to keep their customers.
The first step is to empower more and more shoppers to find the sustainable and ethical brands that work for them on style, on function and on price. This helps build up the scale of the ethical sector, and creates new opportunities for new brands and products to emerge.
Second, we want shoppers to know that in the absence of a perfect fit between their style and functional needs on one hand and their ethics on the other, they can at least identify the brand that is closest to matching their values. Again, this rewards existing brands that have taken steps in the right direction and creates incentives for them and their to competitors to do more.
Research shows that more than 50% of shoppers will act on their pro-sustainability values, but only if it’s easy enough and the options they need are readily available.
Beyond what consumers can do, there’s a lot of work for the fashion industry to do to get serious about labour rights and living wages. We’ve seen some good cooperation between brands and unions on the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord and the ACT project on living wages - but this is really only scratching the surface. To make real change much more needs to be done. There’s some great work being done cooperatively on environmental issues - for example on measuring and addressing water impacts and pushing on the circular economy, but we need some of the more forward thinking large brands to go much further much faster on pre-competitive cooperation on labour rights issues.
Sandra: I wish we could break the cycle of fashion fast and the constant pressure that people, especially young women, feel to update their wardrobe with the latest ‘in’ thing. This is obviously really complex as the fashion industry is under a huge amount of pressure to grow and return profits. And when it comes women’s desire to buy more clothes to look and feel good, this is a deep-seated mindset that is difficult to shift.
But the premise of Good On You is that we all have the power to change the industry for the better with the shopping decisions we make. We all influence fashion brands to produce in a certain way when we buy something - from a pastel jumpsuit to a classic trench coat, we’re sending a clear message to the market. We also influence each other every day - whether we’re a celebrity, YouTube sensation or simply someone’s friend or big sister, we represent our style and values with the clothes we wear and the things we buy. The way I tackle this is to start with myself, to buy less, to cherish old possessions, to buy only new things that will last and add value, and to set an example for others to do the same.
Elvis & I always say ‘do more, be better’ and ‘think twice, buy once’. This week was a real pleasure catching up with the co-founders from Good On You; People that are actively trying to bring these messages to global audiences and turn it into the new norm. Good On You is launching in Europe this month, and we can’t wait to see the further positive impact it will surely bring!