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Good on You, Flocus & Planet Care: 3 Sustainable startups reshaping the fashion industry

By Vivian Hendriksz


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The fashion industry needs a diverse range of sustainable solutions to tackle the numerous issues it faces concerning environmental damage, human rights and shifting to a circular business model. This is where the Fashion for Good-Plug and Play Accelerator Programme comes in. The accelerator programme provides mentoring and support for selected startups offering solutions for various challenges, ranging from supply chain areas to alternative raw materials and new business models. Over the past twelve weeks, fifteen chosen startups participated in the third round of the programme, which took place at the Fashion for Good hub in Amsterdam, receiving mentorship and guidance to strengthen their business strategies and prime them for implementation at scale.

As the startups graduate from the programme and showcase their innovations to the industry, FashionUnited takes a moment to meet with three of the start-ups - Good on You, Flocus and Planet Care - each of which offers a unique solution to the fashion industry’s current challenges, to learn more about their businesses.

Good on You: The mobile app offering consumers ethical ratings for 2,000 fashion brands

Good on You is a mobile app which offers shoppers around the world ethical ratings for 2,000 fashion brands based on their impact on the planet, people and animals to help them make better purchasing decisions. Co-founded by Gordon Renouf, CEO, and Sandra Capponi, Head of Development, in Sydney, in 2013, the idea first came to them when they started talking to people who wanted to buy 'better' but did not know how. Together they built the world's most comprehensive and robust methodology to rate fashion brands for their sustainability impact, which is very accessible thanks to its simple 5 point score. Today Good on You is the largest consumer-facing database of brands, with 150,000 consumers accessing Good on You every month via the app and website. We spoke with Capponi to learn more about the app.

FashionUnited: How does Good on You rate each fashion brand?

Capponi: “We start from the perspective of the shopper. Through research, we know what issues they care about, which is what a brand’s impact is on people, the planet, and animals. The way we asses a brand’s impact on those issues is to look at all the publicly available information, including standards and certifications - of which there are literally hundreds of - as well as what a company publicly reports in their own statements, whether it may be in an annual sustainability report or shareholder reporting. This is all the information accessible to the public and the value that Good on You adds is bringing all of that together into something that is simple and easy for people to use when they are shopping.”

“We aggregate data and translate it into a 5 point score - from 1, ‘we avoid this brand’ to ‘it’s not good enough’ and ‘it’s a start’ and the language we used is nuanced because ethics mean different things to different people. We are all about presenting information so they can make better decisions that match their values. We also prioritise what is going to be the most valuable for users when selecting which brands to include and they often fall in two buckets. The first being the biggest fashion brands on the market, the ones on the high street. The second group may be lesser known to the everyday shopper, but are really leading on sustainability standards or ethical performance. They are important because the app also lets users discover new brands which may better match their values and the things that are important to them. We make similar brand recommendations in the app and update users on new fashion trends.”

Do fashion brands ever dispute the rating they receive on Good on You? If so, how do you respond?

“We often have brands contact us, asking how we have arrived at our rating and questioning if we have got it right. More often than not, it turns into a positive conversation, firstly because we publicly share how we rate brands - we want to be open about that because we want brands to acknowledge that and take steps to improve. Many brands in conversation with us realise they are simply not sharing all the good that they do, so our rating system has driven them to be more transparent, which is good for them and good for the shoppers.”

“There will always be instances when brands that are not reporting anything aren’t happy with their rating, but we stand firmly in the shoes of the shopper. Consumers can’t act on what they think is right if they don’t have the information they need to make informed decisions.”

“We are empowering consumers to change the industry”

Should fashion brands be working harder to be more transparent in your opinion?

“Absolutely, I think transparency is a major indicator of ethical and sustainable performance. But, more simply than that - shoppers have the right to know how and where their products are made. Everybody is different, but there is research that says at least 50 percent of people want to make more ethical choices when they shop but don’t know how and that’s exactly the problem that Good on You solves.”

What was it like participating in the Fashion for Good Accelerator Programme? How have the past 12 weeks been?

“It has been such a good experience. Being surrounded by so many good people all in one place who are working on the same issues as you. We are all very different businesses, offering different solutions working towards the same goal. That support and comradery is great and unique. The other startups give me hope that you can really transform the fashion industry.”

“In addition, Fashion for Good and Plug and Play and other businesses in the co-working space, like ZDHC, are organisations that are all inputs to our rating system, so it has been really valuable to talk to them face to face to make sure our rating methodology aligns. The opportunity to connect with the corporate partners at Fashion for Good, some of the world’s leading global fashion brands, is also very valuable for start-ups at the stage we are at.”

“You are getting so much great advice condensed in a short period of time to improve. Taking in that advice and feedback and turning it into a positive has been key”

What are some of the main things you focused on during the Fashion for Good Accelerator Programme?

“During our time at Fashion for Good we have been focused on two things - firstly, building relationships with brands and retailers to better understand their challenges and how we can work together to help them improve - that is our ultimate aim. We had facilitated meetings with brands over the past weeks and now we have those relationships we can take with us when we leave, we can take those with us.”

“The second thing we have been focusing on is launching Good on You in Europe. We rated 500 more European brands, because up until now we have been focused on Australia and the US. But we already have a large following of users in Europe, without any marketing or the right brands in the app for them. We now have 2,000 brands in the Good on You app that all of our users can access. But that is just the beginning, the rest of the world needs more brands, so we are looking to scale our technology to rate 10,000 brands by the end of next year and by 2020 our big goal to reach 5 million users globally.”

How do you foresee the future of Good on You?

“We imagine a future where the Good on You app rating can be placed over an item and consumers can see there and then the rating. Technology can allow us that and so much more, it’s really exciting what we can dream up in the office. The app as it is today is just a starting point and we have lots of ideas how we can take it to the next level. In five years time we hope people will be using Good on You as second nature while they’re shopping. The end goal for us is a future were all fashion brands will be producing sustainably and ethically, so that the app is not needed. My co-founder and I will not stop until we get to that point.”

Flocus: Offering sustainable yarns, fillings and fabrics made from Kapok fiber

Flocus is a start-up offering a new, natural and sustainable fiber that can easily be blended with other fibers to create new fabrics. Producing natural yarns, fillings as well as fabric blends made from kapok fiber, the kapok tree can be naturally grown without the use of pesticides and insecticides in arid soil which is not suitable for agriculture farming. This offers farmers a sustainable alternative to high water consumption natural fiber crops, like cotton. Founded by Jeroen Muijsers in Shanghai, China in 2015, he hopes the fiber will replace more water and land intensive crops. We spoke to Muijsers, CEO and Founder of Flocus to learn more about the potential of the kapok fiber.

FashionUnited: What is kapok? Can you tell us a little bit more about the tree and fiber?

Muijsers: “The fiber comes from a non-food fruit crop that grows on the Kapok tree, which grows in sub-tropical countries. The trees regenerate the ecosystem, and there are a lot positive benefits from growing them, like poly cropping and water preservation and it avoids soil erosion. The trees grow by themselves very quickly in the right climate and bear fruit once a year. They can grow on hillsides and on acidic soil and within 3 to 5 years of planting a tree they will already bear fruit. Once fully grown, the trees provide approximately 30 kilos of fiber per tree.”

“Then there is the fiber, which is not only sustainable, it is also functional and adds softness to any fabric. Kapok has been used as a stuffing material for a number of years. It is a hollow fiber and it is hydrophobic, so it floats. It has been used as life vest fillers and is as insulating as down, so we also make insulating material for jackets, sleeping bags and blankets. We also produce yarns, which can be used to make fabrics. We tailor blend our own yarns because kapok is a short length fiber and very lightweight, so it needs to be blended with other fibers. This is why you have not seen it used in many textiles up until now. But thanks to our innovation and perseverance, we are now able to provide yarns, fillings and fabrics with the highest percentage of kapok.”

“Even compared to organic cotton, kapok fiber is better”

Where did the idea to use kapok fibre in fabrics come from?

“I lived in China for a long time and one of our partners in Spain came to me one day and said ‘we have this material but we don’t know how to sell it or work with it.’ I started conducting some research, went to some fairs and all the responses we received on kapok fiber were positive, so we started making some fabrics. Once people could touch the fabrics we made, the idea really came alive. Touching yarn is one thing, feeling a fabric is another.”

What are the benefits of using kapok fiber in fabrics?

“The kapok fiber offers three main benefits. It lowers the impact of the fabric, because it is sustainable. It adds function and it adds softness. When it comes to sustainability it offers many benefits, as it does not need any irrigation water, it does not use pesticides or fertilisers, it just relies on pure nature. Even compared to organic cotton, kapok fiber is better. This is cleaner, it is hollow but it also does not absorb as much water, so it blends with recycled polyester for sportswear without taking away the performance attributes of the fabric. Even when we blend kapok fiber with organic cotton it adds a softer, drier touch because it does not absorb as much water as cotton. So you could see it as a synergy and it could also reduce the amount of cotton used.”

“You always have to blend the kapok fiber, which makes it interesting because you can blend it with other fibers to give the fabric other functions. The more kapok you use, the more trees are needed and the planet could use more trees. It is a real natural fiber, not made-man, and those do not pop up often in the fashion industry.”

What was it like participating in the Fashion for Good Accelerator Programme? How have the past 12 weeks been?

“For me it has been a very positive experience. I was mostly based in China, so my network in Europe has been small. Fashion for Good really opens up your network and they helped clarify my business model, focus on what certifications are important, such as traceability. They also offered feedback from their corporate partners in terms of what we could focus on. Getting advice on the financial side, on how to deal with investments and what to think about before hand, has been great as these are things I do not normally think about.”

“It has been very cool and motivating to see all these startups come together from around the world. There is a lot of synergy between some of the start-ups, together they can help strengthen the whole message of circularity.”

“Kapok is a versatile fiber, it can be used in many different aspects from yarn to insulation”

What are some of the main things you focused on during the Fashion for Good Accelerator Programme ?

“We are setting up the first responsible supply chain, we will give this industry a new boost which may result in improved harvesting models and environmental protection. We are focusing on getting some scale which is important to make sure it becomes a more important fiber in the industry. The market is huge, there is a short supply of good fibers and we can offer that, so growth will be exponential. Some brands are talking about picking up the fiber for their 2020 collections, so that will accelerate the development of the fiber, but you need scale to keep the prices down.”

How do you foresee the future of Flocus?

“In the future we will still offer fabrics, yarns and fillings made from kapok fiber but we will not be the main fabric developer. That is not our long-term focus, the short-term plan is to produce some fabrics for sportswear, casual wear and denim. The aim one day is to make a yarn made from 100 percent kapok, but then we need to make a few changes.”

“Once the fiber is more commercial we will ask more farmers to plant the kapok trees because it avoids erosion, reduces the use of fertilisers and sequest carbon, leading to a more regenerative eco-system. This is a great opportunity. But for now we are focusing on offering kapok fiber to medium to high end brands because the volume is not very high, so the fiber is more costly. With volume we can lower the prices, so it will become more interesting for brands with lower price ranges. In the future I want kapok fiber to be available to everybody.”

Planet Care: the solution to capturing microplastics from our washing machines

< Plastic pollution is a major concern at the moment, one that the fashion industry contributes to each day. In addition to plastic pollution caused by plastic bottles, bags, disposable packing and more, tiny, invisible microplastic fibers are released from synthetic clothing every time they are wash. Up to 140,000 microplastic fibers are released from polyester-cotton blends every time the garments are washed, next to nearly half a million fibers from polyester and more than 700,000 fibers from acrylic clothing. These microplastics end up in our oceans, rivers and water systems, causing harm to ecosystems. In order to prevent these microplastics from further polluting our environment, Planet Care has developed a microfiber filter that can be integrated into existing washing machines, which can capture microplastics before they are released in wastewater. This unique system uses the micro-filtration of water based on electrically charged fibers and membrane nanotechnology. FashionUnited spoke to Tina Kirn, Project Manager at Planet Care to learn more about the filter and microplastics.

FashionUnited: Where did the idea to create Planet Care come from?

“Our head of innovation (Hakim) worked for 20 years in the field of water research, trying to find a way to clean our water. Later on he came up with the idea of trying to clean the water from our washing machines before it reached the water systems. First we have to collect the microfibers released and afterwards we can start working on cleaner water. That is how the idea came to be, so we started developing filters. We created several filters for the washing machines, for newer washing machines, older, existing washing machines as well as industrial washing machines, so we cover the b2b and b2c.”

“Together with my six colleges, we call ourselves the dream-team, we are passion and dedicated to creating the best product. We are a concretion of volunteers and enthusiasts because we all have a first job and this is our second job.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the filters? How do they work?

“Our filters are very efficient, they capture 80 percent of the microfibers released and feature self cleaning functions, to make it easier for the user to use. We actually offer two options for the end users. One for new washing machines, which can be built in and sold to washing machine producers, and the other which can be manually added to older models. We tested our filters at the Slovenian National Institute of Chemistry and the Italian New Institute in Naples.”

“We are completely circular, zero-waste and the filters are fully recyclable”

“The filter that goes inside of your washing machine replaces the filter used to captured coins. It lasts 16 to 18 washes, after which you have to replace it. The second option is the globe filter or chocolate filter - there are two. One is for washing machines which are top loading, the other for washing machines which are front loading. The user has to put this filter in the washing machine every time they use it, but these options are not as efficient as the other one which you install in the washing machine. If the user uses the built in filters, they get a box with 6 filters which they can send back to us when they are done. We collect the microfibers from the filters and we burn them through the pyrolytic acidification as clean fuel, making it zero-waste. Or consumers can choose to recycle them by putting them in the plastic waste bins. For the globe filters, users just have to replace the foam inside and recycle the old centre.”

“The industrial filter can be connected up to ten washing machines and the filter is much bigger. This filter can be used in a number of sectors, from hotels to dry cleaners and factories. Our filtration system can be easily applied to larger scale machine systems. The technology is the same.”

What are the costs for the different filters?

“For the end users we want to make sure that the filter is affordable, we do not want to be a luxury product. The add-on filters will retail for 24 euros and if you wash your clothes twice a week, the filters will last you six months. The chocolate and global filters will retail for the same.”

What was it like participating in the Fashion for Good Accelerator Programme? How have the past 12 weeks been?

“The past 12 weeks have been really exciting. We met some very nice people and the other startups were very cool and had some good ideas. All the ideas are different and everyone is working hard to become a success. The team and partners here at Fashion for Good are also very good and have been very helpful.”

What are some of the main areas you focused on during the Fashion for Good Accelerator Programme?

“We are looking to make connections to raise awareness. We connected with the Plastic Soup Foundation in Amsterdam and we are looking to connect with circular economy platforms. We are looking to connect with more communities as well. This is a main focus for us, because of lot of the public is not aware of the microplastics problem.”

“The biggest issue for us is for luxury brands to be open to us. It’s hard for us to become part of their program, because in a way we are damage control. For consumers who purchase luxury apparel, they buy a certain image and they do not want to hear about microfibers, the bad part. So it's hard to make that connection. And to enter the supply chain. But Fashion for Good has a lot of connections and put us in touch with NGOs and we are really looking forward to continue making connections.”

How do you foresee the future of Planet Care?

“We want to be one of the leading companies in the field of collecting microplastics and reducing microplastics. This is our main goal, to have an impact on this issue. We are working on our platform so the filters will be connected to your mobile phone in the future so you can see how many microfibers are caught every time you wash your clothes, and how many fish you save. It will also tell you when it is time to replace the filter.”

“Our goal is pilot our filters and we want to find a partner for our industrial filter so we can test it for a few months. We 3D printed our early filters, but now we need investment and funding to move from lab testing to user trials. This investment would include a machine to mass produce the filters. Ideally we want to make our filters in Slovenia, where we are based so we can have control over the production and a better overview.”

Photos: Courtesy of Fashion for Good

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