The image of garment workers risking their lives in the name of fashion troubles Sandra Capponi. “When you speak to workers in places like Bangladesh and Cambodia, where still today most most of fashion is actually manufactured,” she says, “it can be shocking and heartbreaking to hear how people have been exploited, have not been paid fairly, or have felt like their lives are at risk in making clothes that so many of us enjoy and take for granted.” Enter Good on You. Created in Australia in 2015 by Capponi and co-founder Gordon Renouf, the global ethical fashion app makes finding sustainable style options easier.
The app provides brand ratings, articles, and expertise on ethical and sustainable fashion to help consumers shop according to their personal values. The app is fairly easy to navigate: Users simply type in the retailer they’re considering buying from to see how well it ranks (the company uses a scale ranging from “We Avoid” and “Not Good Enough” to “It’s A Start,” “Good,” and “Great”) and get a real-time assessment of the brand's ethical impact. There’s also an option to search by different categories — denim, dresses, shoes — for a comprehensive list of the most eco-friendly options across a range of price points. Users can also suggest new brands for Good on You to add to its assessments.
The Good on You app has become a must-download for ethical shoppers. When it launched in 2015, it quickly gained 10,000 downloads in 10 days. Half a decade later, the platform is now used by 700,000 people across the globe.
Capponi says ethical fashion is something to pay attention to. “Often, young people don't really realize that fashion is still made by an individual. There's still someone that is making that garment that's using their hands to sew,” she says. She cites reported incidents in Bangladesh and China as examples of unsafe working conditions in the industry. “Some people assume that it's all automated in factories, but that really isn't the case. There's a person behind every garment,” Capponi shares.
Unfair pay and these dangerous conditions are all too common for millions of garment industry workers around the world, many of whom are women. The excessive use of toxic chemicals, pesticides, and synthetic fibers also makes fashion one of the world’s biggest polluters, producing 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions, according to the United Nations.
To help consumers find brands doing right by the planet, people, and animals, Good on You uses public data, including brand reports, trusted third-party indexes, and eco-conscious accreditation companies to assess how ethical companies are.
Information was completely missing from the market, and people, even if they did care, didn't know where to start.
The work Capponi does at Good on You is inspired by principles she learned when she was young. “My mother’s first job when she landed in Australia at age 15 was in a knitting factory very close to where I now live,” she says. "My family taught me the values of working hard, of having empathy for people who are less fortunate, and [that] everyone should have fair treatment and equal opportunity. All of that is so entwined in how I came to care about these issues."
Good on You fills the gap that Capponi herself has tried to close as a longtime lover of sustainable fashion. “When I first started hearing about the shocking conditions for workers in factories and the overproduction that was wreaking havoc on the environment, my initial reaction was to stop buying anything at all and to appreciate what I already had. Even today, my most sustainable purchases are things that I have cherished and held onto for a really long time, like my favorite pair of jeans that I keep repairing over and over again and a vintage coat that my mum handed down to me,” Capponi shares.
Because she knows firsthand how time-consuming researching a brand's business can be, she wanted to create a better, more streamlined system that takes the guesswork out of shopping. “[We] started Good on You because we realized that more and more people were like us. They wanted to make more sustainable [and] ethical choices when they shopped, but it was just too hard. Information was completely missing from the market, and people, even if they did care, didn't know where to start,” Capponi says.
Prior to Good on You, Capponi worked on the corporate social responsibility strategy at National Australia Bank before catching the attention in 2016 of Gordon Renouf, who was already conducting beta testing for the Good on You app in Australia. The concept was appealing to Capponi, who saw an incredible opportunity to help transform the way people shop and how brands do business. “If we could get people to realize that [sustainability] was something consumers cared about and were acting upon, then consumer demand and sentiment would shift business behavior much more rapidly than internal practices and policies,” she explains.
Renouf, in turn, credits Capponi with inspiration that’s at the heart of Good on You’s mission. “Sandra’s totally committed to the vision of an ethical and sustainable world with boundless energy and drive,” he says. “She has a unique ability to look at all sides of an issue or relationship and find the best way through, one that works for everyone involved.”
Over the years, Good on You has become a must-download for ethical shoppers. It's even had megastar and actor Emma Watson as its brand ambassador since February 2019. “Many years ago, we joked about getting Emma on board as our ambassador,” Capponi recalls. “And then, actually very unexpectedly, her team reached out to us.” Watson was guest-editing Vogue Australia’s March 2018 sustainability issue, and she wanted Good on You to be the verification partner to check brands. It turned out she was already a longtime user of the app.
The app’s expansive database, with more than 2,000 fashion brands, has a measurable impact on the way thousands of people — movie stars and the rest of us — shop. “Our community contacts us every day, sending us messages like ‘you changed the way I shop’ and ‘thank you for making sustainable shopping so easy for me,’” Capponi says. Good on You’s core demographic, Capponi says, is made up of shoppers who care but don’t necessarily know how to start shopping ethically. “That is the group of people that we love to treat right because we've been able to break down the issues in a really simple way,” she says.
Marielle Elizabeth, an influencer in the slow-fashion space, explains the huge impact an app like Good on You has on shoppers. “It can be a great tool in your tool belt,” Elizabeth says. She explains how the app helps answer questions that are important to consumers. “Is someone paid a living wage? Do they have job security? Are they treated with respect and dignity while they're manufacturing clothing?”
I'd like to see the future of fashion returning to its origin, being something that is … of value and beauty.
And it’s not just consumers that find Good on You helpful. Major retailers like FarFetch — a popular e-tailer for luxury fashion — use its ratings to help shoppers identify which brands are truly doing right by the planet. “Large retailers want to know how their portfolio [of] brands rate on these key social and environmental issues,” Capponi says.
Capponi says to truly protect the planet, the work is twofold: Brands have to reconsider their production practices, and shoppers need to reduce their consumption. “The industry simply needs to produce less and consume less. There is so much waste and harm to people and the planet caused in the fashion industry today. I'd like to see the future of fashion returning to its origin, being something that is … of value and beauty,” she says.
In the middle of the global pandemic, Capponi and Renouf have shifted their focus to addressing the latest shifts in ethical fashion. On Aug. 25, Good on You announced it had updated brand ratings to account for how companies responded to cancellations and other crises due to the pandemic. “Brands that abandoned their workers and canceled factory orders score poorly, whereas brands that protected their workers and suppliers are now rewarded,” Capponi explains. And the work doesn’t stop there. “In our next rating update, we want to look more deeply at how brands are addressing another very important issue — racism. This includes looking at the things they’re doing, the policies and practices they have in place, to make sure all employees of every race feel safe, respected, and empowered,” she says.
As for future steps, Capponi has her eyes set on expanding the platform into other consumer categories. “Beauty, in particular, has many of the same issues and concerns [as the fashion industry] around how people are treated,” she shares. “[By growing Good on You], we can make sustainable choices really easy, and through the power of people's choices, shift change toward a more sustainable future.”