What are the worst impacts of our addiction to cheap and fast fashion?
The pressure to produce huge amounts of cheap, fast fashion can have devastating impacts on people and the planet. Excessive use of toxic chemicals, pesticides and synthetic fibres all contribute to fashion being one of the most polluting industries in the world. Then there’s the fact that buying more clothes means we throw away more clothes than ever before so textile waste is another massive issue.
But it’s the human impact that really gets to me. Unfair pay and unsafe working conditions are all too common for millions of garment industry workers around the world, often women and sometimes even children. In 2013 over 1000 factory workers died making fast fashion at the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh. You can’t get worse than that.
How can we, consumers, tell the difference between a brand that’s really sustainable, and one that uses greenwashing to make us think they are?
It’s hard because lots of brands use clever marketing to position themselves as eco-friendly when actually their operations are damaging the environment.
Initiatives like solar panels and recycled packaging are a start but are really not enough. Brands should be measuring, assessing and reporting on the impact of its production practices across its entire supply chain — this includes reducing resource, water and chemical use as well as carbon emissions and textile waste.
Our app is designed to help shoppers know how brands are addressing these important issues. While there are many brands that fall short, there are also lots that are doing the right thing — so we all have the power to avoid greenwashing and make choices that are good for us and good for the planet.
Your app rates companies based on sustainable certifications and data provided by the brands themselves. How do you assess the credibility of those certifications and, especially, the companies’ claims?
That’s right, our rating system brings together credible public information to assess how a brand impacts on people, the environment and animals.
Our team of experts regularly consult with a diverse group of industry stakeholders to understand what are the leading standards and certifications that indicate impact across the material issues.
We also look at what a company publicly reports on their own ethical practices and performance. We do not accept information directly from brands as we believe transparency is the first step towards sustainability and consumers have the right to know. Also by making public statements, brands can be held to account for what they say and do.
What is the current state of the labour and workers’ rights in the fashion industry?
It’s easy to get caught up on the negative side of the fashion industry as there’s no question that labour rights still have a long way to go. Some of the world’s poorest people are still exploited in global supply chains and pay the ultimate price for fast fashion. The scale and complexity of the problems can be overwhelming.
But there’s definitely signs of positive change as brands, both large and small, are stepping up to take significant action to ensure the protection of workers. This includes tracing suppliers and ensuring payment of a living wage at all stages of production. A third of the top 100 fashion brands now publicly list their tier-one suppliers — a practice that was unheard of only a few years ago.
Consumer awareness and activism is also growing with campaigns like ‘Fashion Revolution’ demanding that brands be transparent about who made their clothes. We see this as more and more people are using our app to access ethical ratings and discover better brands. This gives me hope for the future as shoppers can have a huge impact on changing the industry for the better.
What are the main trends that brands use to reduce their environmental impact?
Environmental issues in fashion are quite complex. We look at a brand’s resource, energy, water and chemical use as key drivers of impact. Leading brands are taking steps to use certified organic and eco-friendly materials as well as reduce energy and water consumption and eliminate hazardous chemicals in their production. They’re setting ambitious targets and publicly reporting against those targets.
Brands that are really innovating in this space are also adopting circular approaches to sourcing, design, manufacturing and end of life. G-Star recently unveiled the world’s most sustainable denim fabric and C&A the first Cradle 2 Cradle Gold certified jeans. Innovations to recycle textile waste are also emerging to close the loop on production which has the potential to be a real game changer for the sustainability of fashion.
What are your personal favourite sustainable brands?
I love discovering new brands with a great story to tell — there’s so many designers out there proving that sustainable fashion can be stylish and doesn’t have to come at the cost of people and the environment.
I spent a bit of time in Berlin recently where I discovered awesome brands like Format that makes their edgy transeasonal pieces on site and Lanius that creates effortlessly elegant eco-friendly designs.
In my home town, Melbourne, A.BCH and Loiz Hazel are definitely up there on my list of favourites for original, luxury basics.
My MUD jeans, Kowtow shirt and Veja trainers are also my go-to staples.
How do brands and retailers use your ratings?
Brands and retailers use Good On You in a few ways to promote their ethics and reach conscious shoppers. Many brands recognise that consumer expectations are growing but they struggle to communicate their ethics, mostly because shoppers don’t trust what they say. We help by connecting brands and retailers to shoppers with our trusted ratings.
For brands rated ‘Good’ or ‘Great’ by our rating system, they can access our marketing platform to share their positive brand story with our large community of users and followers.
Retailers can also use our app to access our database of 2,000+ brand ratings to help them understand the ethical performance of their brand portfolio and choose which brands to stock.
What would be your advice to anyone who want to become a better consumer?
Firstly, recognise the power that you have to stand up for the issues that matter to you through the purchasing decisions you make. It’s easy to pass on responsibility to others, or to think that individual actions don’t matter, but they do. Everything starts with you.
Buying less is an obvious and important step. We simply can’t go on producing and consuming as much as we do now without having devastating impacts on the world around us. Consider giving old clothes a makeover, swapping with friends or second-hand shopping.
And when you do purchase something, make it count — think about if you know where it comes from, if you really like it and if it’s something you will cherish for a long time. Let your clothes be an expression of who you are and what you care about.
What was the most limiting belief in your journey to create your company?
That maybe, despite all our hard work, we can’t make it work. That the scale of the problems are just too big and that the resources we need to overcome them are not available. But there’s no point in thinking that way if you really want to create change.
I think my unacceptance of the status quo and determination to make things better prevails at the end of the day. I also have to recognise my Co-Founder, Gordon, here as the eternal optimist who has pulled me out of this thinking a number of times. My pragmatism and his optimism make us a good team.
And now, against all the odds Good On You is growing rapidly, shoppers are taking action and we’re starting to see progress in the industry.
What three tips would you give to women entrepreneurs who are trying to level up?
Number one would have to be to believe in yourself and that your actions make a difference. I’ve already said this in so many words but there’s no point in doubting your abilities as change starts with each and every one of us.
Secondly, accept help from others and listen to advice but always go with your gut. Only you know what’s right for you and the dream that you’re realising.
And last but not least, see femininity as an advantage and support other women to do the same. A woman is strong, together we’re unstoppable.
Sandra Capponi is the Co-Founder and Head of Business Development at Melbourne-based Good On You — a company on a mission to transform the way we shop by giving us tools to enable buying decisions aligned with our values. She is a seasoned business professional with expertise in Corporate Social Responsibility, supply chains, branding and strategy. Despite the challenges, she remains optimistic that business can be a powerful catalyst for positive social and environmental change.