Stories of transformation from Laos and beyond in the words of leaders taking on contemporary issues through business, creativity, and advocacy.
In conversation : Sandra Capponi, Co-Founder of GoodOnYou.eco
On negotiating and being an entrepreneur in adversity -
in this new moment of normal?
We're about helping people that want to buy consciously, people that want to do things that make them feel good because they know that the clothes that they're wearing have come from a good place, and because they know that they're supporting brands that are doing the right thing.
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This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.
Elizabeth Suda discusses with Sandra Capponi, Co-Founder of Good On You
Cool. What type of tea? Are you drinking?
I'm drinking an English Breakfast tea.
A little caffeine kick.
Yeah, yeah, I do really love my coffee. Being from Melbourne you know everyone who drinks coffee, but it's part of my afternoon routine I would say to take some time to stop and either brew myself or shout myself I really nice black coffee.
That's interesting. You, you'll have a coffee in the afternoon that's always scared me a little bit. I know I'm on a path to destruction if I do that, and then I'm, I'm awake.
Well, yeah, I think the afternoon is still fine. It might have something to do with my Italian roots. You know, we drink coffee all the time and especially after a meal.
Okay, that's that is quite fair. I did recognize your name. So how did your family end up in Australia?
Um, in the 60s, I think it was both my parents migrated to Australia, along with literally millions of other Italians at that time. You know, there was a big migration from Italy to the states as well, in the 60s, post war era, and yeah, a big arrangement between our governments to allow people to settle here. So they're still, you know, really big, private community. And this story is not all that unique, but I think it really has kind of shaped my upbringing and you know, who I am today because of the yeah, their story.
Well, I mean, it's like having this dual identity and as an American, I've always felt connection to European roots, actually, because I think that's something Australians and Americans share the sense of movement and my family was also from Italy, Greece and Czechoslovakia and then let's just say Scotland, Ireland. So, yeah, growing up in school, we were always very encouraged to talk about our ancestry and so forth. And then when you talk to my French husband, he's like, i'm French. What do you mean?
Just, black and white.
Yeah welcome to America. You were a Frenchman in America. I am American, but also these other layers of things.
Many other things, many other things.
Do you have family in Italy?
We do. Um, thankfully, they're all safe. Obviously, we've been watching the situation in Italy really closely. And you know, being concerned for, just you know that the really sad crazies situation in the country and I know it's worsening everywhere now also in the States. So far we're quite fortunate in Australia, but I've been particularly concerned about family and friends. We also have a team member in Italy. Team members all over the world that were, you know, trying to make sure they're okay and staying safe.
Yeah. And where? Where, where is your family based in Italy?
My father's family's is from a little town called some family sheds about an hour outside of Rome. So central Italy. My mother is also from Central Italy, a region called uproot. So okay, a little bit out outside of the hot zone.
Not too far.
Not too far.
It really does make you realize how interconnected the world is and how we are just all part of the same sky. We're all looking at the same constellations at night. We're all, you know, at the end of the day, living, very different versions of the same stories and in this particular case, so uniquely, it is almost the same version of the very same story. And it's so rare that that is actually the case where you have something so viscerally affecting everybody, or many people in this very real way where the economy is shut down, and people's lives are at stake. And I don't know I mean, I'm hoping that there's some benefit to us realizing that interconnection and not going the opposite direction, where we become more isolated from each other, but
I completely agree with you on all of those thoughts have really consumed me over the past few weeks in that, you know, this, this shines a light on on our connectedness like never before, I believe and, you know, I think that that presents an opportunity for us to feel more connected as humanity and and to feel more connected to the planet we all share. But you know, I do also worry that it in many ways create sentiment, you know, maybe makes people feel more antagonistic or, or more, you know, concerned about themselves in the short term.
It is interesting how any sort of kind of revolution or a moment of transformation has that kind of tension where it could go either way. And even on a personal basis, you know, it’s such an incredible moment to reflect how has your life on a very kind of basic level transforms, like what does your day look like and how is it different than it was before?
It's very different. I'm not used to standing still. But, you know, in some ways, the the way I work hasn't actually changed and, and my work is, is a big part of my life. You know, it's my passion. It's, it's, it's what I feel committed to, and and Good on You. Fortunately, has you know, always operated online from every corner of the earth, you know, wherever we are is where where we do our work. And so, you know, that that really has has stayed the same and has, you know, kept me focused and, and, and kept our whole team really committed to the same purpose. But you know, personally, my day is usually, you know, really, really different every day is is usually really different because, you know, I'm on pursuing what I think is the most important thing to take me personally and take our team collectively forward. So I actually just recently returned from overseas I've spent a lot of time in Europe in particular last few years where we're seeing a lot of great response to to our work and where I'm seeing a lot of great opportunity to connect and partner and explore opportunities with people and and so yeah, you know going from that life of running from city to city engaging with all different types of people and talking about how we can come together to do things suddenly feels flowed right slowed right down and yeah, that's that's an interesting interesting place in a debate something that I'm I'm I'm still coming to terms with I think.
It's an interesting moment where, you know, it's a choice to have a sense of optimism or not, in a way and I'm choosing optimism but it is scary because there's a point at which if it passes a certain amount of time, that panic will, will set in. But I think that's the beauty of being, you know, human like we, we can be really resourceful like we have, we have the ability to solve problems in a way that maybe other animals can't. And collectively, if we work together, we can do that from within our own little home units. But also we have this inter-connection through the internet. And so I'm myself I'm choosing the more optimistic direction and, and probably you are too, based on what you do and Good on You.
So, maybe tell us a little bit more about how you became co-founder and actually like a little bit about what led you to where you are today. What did you do before? And what was that aha moment?
Mm hmm. So I worked for many years in the corporate sector, in banking of all things. And I spent that time I think, you know, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, but recognizing that business was was an important tool, and I thought that I was, you know, learning skills and that I would eventually leave, leave the business sector to go and pursue some kind of passion but I just haven't figured out what that was yet. I always had a bent for social justice that comes from many things, my great education, maybe a little bit also my parents having that history of really starting from nothing and building, you know, their their success from the ground up. And, and so, you know, I thought it was always important to give everybody a fair go and to make sure everybody had had access to opportunities. But yeah, what do you know how that was going to manifest in a career I really struggled with years. But, I recall you know, being in business and being at a bank here in Australia, and suddenly having, you know, an aha moment of, hang on a second, you know, maybe I can actually put my business skills to, to good, you know, use in terms of addressing social and environmental issues and that, even more importantly, if businesses put their skills and resources and capital to good use, then, you know, we could have a really big impact. We could change things in the world for so much better. I discovered this thing called corporate social responsibility and eventually worked in that field. Where, you know, I had I had the chance to work on gender diversity issues in big corporates, I had the chance to work on indigenous inclusion initiatives on financial inclusion initiatives making sure you know people in all work works of life could access the basic needs of of financial services could get access to money. And, yeah, I really enjoyed that that time in my career, but eventually got to a point where I got tired, I got impatient with the, the slow pace of change and I got tired of trying to convince people within the contracts, the constructs of, of the corporate environment, that that social and environmental issues were important that they were core to business.
And I started to see, you know, a movement outside of business, I guess you could call it a consumer movement that I felt really personally aligned with, you know, I was thinking more and more about my individual choices. And, you know, still today I research everything before I decide what to buy. And I realized that, you know, I wasn't alone and that, you know, more and more people were wanting to make conscious values based sustainable decisions. And that that consumer demand and that consumer movement could actually have a really important role in shifting business behavior.
So it sounds like you're,[At Good On You,] you're really giving a lot of power to the consumer and you know there's always the classic chicken egg question of, you know how change happens. And the reality is it's always very, very complicated. And I never answer that question where it starts and ends because it never does.
But how do you kind of negotiate that reality where there does need to be public, private partnership. There does need to be buy in across governments and businesses and consumers. How do you, how do you see good on you in terms of being a business and leading that way? But then how do you look at how important it is for governments and consumers to really take charge as well?
Yeah. So Good on You is all about empowering people to know the impact of brands so that they can make better decisions. And so their decisions can drive business behavior, business businesses to be better. And I think that that is super important because people often defer responsibility to somebody else to, to government to businesses. But ultimately, we all have a role to play and to your point, that there is no clear answer to everything. It is complicated and but, you know, I think everybody not only has a responsibility, but you know, a lot of people want to want to do something about it. Lots of people do care and if it was easy for them to do something about it, they would. And same with business, you know, lots of them at their core do have a great, great purpose. But you know that they have lots of lots of infrastructure and and people and priorities around them that that prevent, prevent that change. And same with government, you know, they're mandated to do a lot and and they can't just solve everybody's problems. So I think there is a role for everyone and all different types of organizations to come together in these but starting by recognizing the individual power is incredibly important, incredibly critical, you know, part of the solution that I think if we all recognize we could we could take things further, much, much more quickly.
And I mean, it really at the end of the day, what I think ARTICLE22 is about and definitely what Good on You is about is systemic change and how to make that happen depends on, you know, all three actors, consumers, governments and businesses, if we boil it down to just three really being aware and educated and then putting pressure on one another to make the change happen. And the awareness, it seems, is what Good on You is all about. And I think just very broadly, the world we're living in right now with COVID-19 it's it's proof that you can't just put band aids on things like investing. For the moment when something goes wrong, is when you might need fewer band aids because you've been able to avoid needing the band aid to cover a wound. And in a way, it seems that we're at a point where we live in a globalized world, we're connected technologically, we can connect on a personal basis like this, we have the ability to ship goods, thousands of miles across the globe and we need to realize that just as a pandemic can move very quickly, the effects of exploitation of our environment and humans and making products is as real and far more deadly, actually. And so it seems that what Good on You is trying to do is make it easier for everyday citizens to everyday consumers to just buy better.
And I couldn't agree more about that and that's or with that, and that's what we at ARTICLE22 to do in a very particular niche way, with our partners in Laos, so yeah, I mean, how, how are you kind of negotiating, being an entrepreneur at this time, COVID-19 era in this new moment of normal, and very specifically, how does it feel to be non-essential? And do you think you're not essential as a fashion brand? Or a fashion platform?
Yeah. Well, there's lots of there's lots of things in those questions. I think, you know, being an entrepreneur is about is about navigating problems and it's about seeing the opportunity. And you know now more than ever is is the time to to face into challenges and to to use that to reset to refocus and to go for, you know what what is good. And you know when I think about that question is is Good on You really relevant is fashion is buying fashion or jewelry really relevant right now? Well that that's not all all we're about. We're, we're about you know, people that want to buy consciously, people that want to do things that make them feel good because they know that you know, the things that they buy the clothes that they're wearing have come from a good place. And because they know that they're supporting brands that are doing the right thing, they're supporting people and companies that have a good story to tell. And those things are more relevant now than than ever before, we believe, you know. Knowing that you're that you're able to do things with integrity that you know, don't compromise your values and knowing that you're supporting others who are also, you know, protecting other people and, and the planet that we all share is incredibly relevant and, you know, so important in in this in this new context that we all find ourselves in. So, you know, our team has really rallied behind that weight, we feel more committed than ever to, to live out our mission to, you know, empower our community with the information that they're looking for in our communities, you know, showing us that they're still active, they're still coming to us for information on, on what brands are doing, what fashion brands are doing, they're still coming to us for, you know, an understanding of what's happening in fashion and how that's impacting on the environment and how especially now we'll have what how it's impacting on workers. And they want to know which brands they can connect with who has who has a positive impact, who has a great story, who's local who's protecting, you know, the very makers of our clothes, who who is doing those things that can make them feel feel good when when they're doing what we all do which is wear clothes and engage with, with you know, beautiful creative things that that make life better.
Yeah. And that that human touch is essential. That is essential. You know. So, I think that's probably one of the biggest mind shift mindset shifts, that we as a society, need to have on more of a mass scale rather than a niche one, which is that everything we touch in the course of a day, was touched by many other humans before. And their stories are, we are connected to them through those objects, whether it's a piece of technology, the car, we drive, you know, a beam that is, you know, holding up a wall in your house like it's touched by many hands. And so, I I'm with you, I think that's completely essential.
Now this is probably a question I would have been a little bit more focused on in another moment, but I'm going to ask it anyway. Because Corona COVID-19 won't be here forever. And it has more to do with how there are some positive things about fast fashion when it comes to identity and confidence and self image from the perspective of the person that's wearing it. And I'm specifically pointing out, I suppose, a point about price, in that it's very accessible so everyone could have the latest, quote, unquote, fashion, and that obviously has had massive appeal. Everyone, including myself, has been a participant in that and I'd love to know little bit about what you've seen as far as brands that are marked good or great on good on you in relation to pricing and accessibility, and what you what you think is actually an answer to that point for, you know, making the market bigger at some point.
Hmm. Again, a couple of things. I think, firstly, what one of the key insights that we have at Good on You is that even you know, the most passionate environmentalists don't just think about sustainability when when they're buying anything, but you know, particularly when they're buying fashion that there are a whole raft of considerations from you know, style and location and some, some sort of emotional affinity with a brand but of course price, you know, people have different levels of affordability and you know different different ways that they can make purchases at different times. So, we see it as part of our role to empower people with information on on the sustainability of brands to also couple that with everything else, you know, that is important to them and that's in their consideration set so that so that they can make the best decision for them at that time. Having said that, we we are also trying to, I guess, in a way dispel the myth that that sustainable fashion is always really expensive. And, and to go back a little bit to the concept of value. There are, there are many good and great brands that we have rated. So, you know, we have a rating out of five and good and great a four out of five and five out of five and many of those that represent a whole raft of, of styles of product categories and of price ranges. You know, there are a lot of brands out there that are trying to show you know, you can you can engage with fashion and not have to compromise on the other things you care about. Whilst you know, still respecting the environment and the makers and animals. There are also brands that are I think, yeah helping to redefine that concept of value and and showing that you know, fast fashion is, it's about, it's about cheap clothing, but it's also about, you know, consuming and going through clothing really quickly. And so actually the, the value per wear can can often be quite high, you know, you might only be paying $5 up front for a T shirt, but if you're only getting one or two wears out of it, then that that can be quite expensive. Whereas, you know, another brand that on the surface upfront there's, there's a higher outlay to purchase, if that's lasting you a really long time because of its quality, or because of its trend seasonality. And just because, you know, you, you, you know the story of the brand and so you might cherish it in a different way. All of these things, yeah point to a higher value that that you associate with that product.
Yeah, no, I feel you because often I get the question well, why did you choose jewelry? You know, and I say well first of all, this was a brilliant local innovation by the artisans that we work with who first started making soup spoons in the 1970s. And you can't be more creative or practical in selling soup spoons to the local market, which eats noodle soup, breakfast, lunch and dinner. And so it was just so brilliant and for a global market, it was going to be more challenging to sell spoons, and so jewelry just felt like the most obvious thing to me at the time because it is the thing that I remember when I look at you know, my my my jewelry box or my possessions I remember who gave it to me for what occasion, and I have those things for life. Maybe I even collected it as a souvenir on a trip. And so I have an emotional attachment to it as I wear it. And then of course, I envision giving it to my daughter one day or my sister or my mother, whatever. But there is this connection with the thing. Because it isn't going to end up in a landfill. It just wouldn't make sense to but the value isn't only in the material, it's in the story and you know, who gifted it. So I, I absolutely believe in the power of that. And to your point, the number of times that you wear something is also a testament to how much you like it. So if you spend a little more on something that you really, really love, it's worth it. And it's been a very natural progression for me to get to that point. Actually, it wasn't sustainability. You know, starting maybe 15 years ago, 10 years ago, I really started focusing on what sustainability meant in fashion and and in my life. But it really actually started for me with that emotional connection. And I was noticing that, mostly, not always, but mostly the things that I spent more on. I was very conscious about making that decision to spend that amount. And they've lived in my closet for much longer. So, I mean, you're onto something, Sandra.
We both are.
Yeah, it's really helpful because I think one of the things that's so difficult is that everyone's so busy. And I don't know about you, but I definitely feel especially living in New York City, Brookyln, specifically, like a decision fatigue. Like, it's a very, very real thing. So, I'm really excited about Good on You, from a consumers perspective, because I'm happy if somebody can help me make decisions, I, I don't have to work so hard to make the decision and to do all of the research, you know, I'll do still some research, but if someone's done some of the vetting for me, that's very comforting. So I I love that.
So so now, like, just a fun question. Were when you look at yourself today, and then you look back, has there been any, like, moment of surprise? I mean, you answered this a little bit with regard to your parents. kind of coming over to Australia and being immigrants and starting from scratch. But I don't know is there anything even from your childhood where you look back and you connect the dots to where you are today but at the time you would never have have known where you would be? And it's okay if there's nothing but.
Yeah. I think it maybe goes back to that time that I mentioned before when I suddenly realized that business could be good. Yeah. And it was a really specific moment. I remember I was sitting in in my courtyard you know, with the coffee outside just reflecting on a few things and I had that that thought and then just suddenly, you know, rushed back to my computer to to research you know, what was my company doing and how could I could get involved in whether volunteer opportunities and it just, you know, spiraled into a whole heap of thinking and an action really, I'm very kind of much a do-er. And so, and and that moment, I think led me to, to where I am today what you know, leading Good on You with my co founder. Even that moment of meeting Gordon was, was really a turning point. He had actually, you know, started Good on You, he had done a lot of the research from a consumer perspective, being, you know, working as a consumer lawyer and a consumer advocate for many years here in Australia. He through his research and seeing firsthand that kind of sentiment that I was feeling that more and more consumers were wanting to make values based decisions, but just couldn't find the information in the market and, you know, meeting him at that time when I was starting to feel a little bit disengaged from my working business, it all just suddenly clicked like, you know, yeah, exactly that that's the next progression of what I'm supposed to do. I'm supposed to take my knowledge of business and my understanding of of the drivers to be more, you know, socially and environmentally impactful and and work on on the outside, you know, on this grassroots movement on this on this people movement to shift business to that next level. So, yeah, you know, if I, if I think about that moment, it was sitting outside in my my courtyard with a cup of coffee that ultimately led me to where I am today.
Well, it sounds like you're ready for another revelation because given that we're all in solitude, negative space, that have that power to cleanse our minds and the soul. So you know that you might be on to your next aha moment within the company. Um, there's a partner of ours that I mean, Beatrix Ost, she is the very first collaborator we ever started working with. And her message actually, I am wearing this and this is a complete coincidence, but it's "In your body is a good place to be". And it's her mantra. And, you know, some people are like, oh, what does that mean? Like, are you from Boston? Are you a prude? Just kidding. But clearly, it you know, it really is the most essential, essential point. It's that you're with yourself and you're the one that has control over yourself and how to maintain that control I think is probably the hardest thing in our frenetic, interconnected modern world. And one of her other mantras is "Practicing Silence". And so she would go to parties in the 70s wearing this pin that we've now reproduced that, that says "Practicing Silence". And she would own it and just point to the pin and force people to talk about themselves. So she was totally engaged, but she just wanted to listen.
So, you know, it, I think of this moment where we are and I think of her particular messages, because that that's really what we all have to do. And then the other part is to, to imagine that, that utopia, it's imagine the promised land, and even if we don't get there in our lifetime to believe it's possible. I guess.
And so to end on an extreme note, that might force you to make exaggerated claims. Let's not call them claims but like, what would be whether you see it whether I see it in my lifetime, like what is your, your dream like where do you feel like you know, we've… what would it take to reach kind of that Promised Land of sustainability and consumption be like?
I mean, I definitely have to say this within our lifetime and that is a world where people, you know, everybody, you and me, we can make decisions about the things we care about. When we're buying fashion when we're buying food when we're you know, making everyday decisions just as easily as we can, you know, make decisions about price and you know that whether we prefer color red or black, that way we'll be able to feel a real connection with you know, other things and products of beauty and understand, you know, where it's come from and use that as part of our decision making. And, you know, ultimately, brands and companies will be totally transparent about that. It'll be completely normal for, for them to communicate what they're doing and for us to be able to use that information to act with intent. Yeah.
Well said, well said. Well, we are with you, we are working completely in parallel as partners. So we're really happy to have discovered you. Because you discovered us, we discovered because suddenly we started seeing referrals from your site to, you know, GoodonYou.eco. Good on You. Eco or eco. How do you say it?
Eco. Yeah. That should have been obvious but goodonyou.eco to ARTICLE22.com and that is what prompted us to get in touch and say, "Hey, tell us more. Thank you for doing what you do. What a great surprise." So yeah, we really appreciate it and look forward to maybe bringing someone your, from your team over to Laos at some point. So.
I'd love that. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, our team loves what you do, it's really easy for us to, you know, first assess what your brand is doing against our methodology because, you know, it's based on just looking at, at what's been published, and, you know, it's easy to assess a brand like audience ARTICLEE22 because you are being really transparent and open about how you work and the things you consider and you're, you're working in Laos. And then you know, we we take that, that ratings information and in corporated into our content and in our stories where we're celebrating the best brands in ethical, sustainable fashion. And again, app team loves writing about ARTICLE22. Because it's a great story to tell.
Thank you. Thank you. Well, I mean, at this point, we're ready to bring who's ever ready to come over once this madness ends, and, you know, eventually it's crossed our mind and people should let us know. Well, maybe we should send out a survey to know if they'd be interested in kind of a guided trip to because this is this is the thing although we're, you know, thousands of miles apart and the jewelry travels the globe. I mean, we have customers in over 30 countries maybe over 40 at this point. Yeah. And consistently. I you know, in the event that we can we can bring people to have the adventure and the love affair that we have every time we go you know, that's, that's really direct to consumer.
For sure, I can tell you now I personally would really love that experience. And I know many people in the Good on You team and the Good on You community would yeah, would love, love to connect at that level with your brand and your story.
Cool. Well, it's 2021 goals.
Let's do it.
Sounds good. Sandra, thank you so much for your time. This was really fun. I'm glad we had the chance to do it. And when you come to New York, we look forward to hosting you when that can happen, too. So.
Thank you, Liz. It was really nice to talk and I know we've been back on back and forth on email. And it's so nice just to have a conversation. So thanks for for making the time and creating the space in amongst all of this craziness to do that and go back to what's important to us.
Totally. Well, have a wonderful day.
You too. Take care.
Bye for now.