How to use purchasing power and demand to change the fashion industry
I am, admittedly, a media junkie. So I watch a lot of YouTube and I read a lot of articles – it’s a hobby. A trend I find in the ethical/sustainable movement and vegan movement is the topic of using our dollar to show brands a demand for ethical and sustainable choices, as well as cruelty-free choices and testing. Many leaders and organisations in both camps suggest we do not support businesses that do not align with our morals; that by doing this we are creating a demand for kinder products and brands will feel the dents in their bottom line and [hopefully] response in turn.
This is a beautiful idea and one that has had some notable effects in the past, more so in the ethical and sustainable movement than the vegan movement from what I’ve seen. The fact is, in the 28 years since the first major cosmetic companies started ending cruel testing practices, more companies than not have ignored consumer demands to be kinder. (Don’t get me started on the Indian givers that went back to their old, cruel ways.) Why? There are three major reasons brands aren’t listening.
We Are The Minority
If we used marbles to represent all the first-world minority group populations, vegans would rank pretty puny on the grand scale of things. Even with the increase in cruelty-free popularity in the past ten years, we’re small fish in a sea of consumers. Just think about how many people you know concerned about whether their favorite sweater is made of wool or that their signature lipstick was tested on animals. Now compare that number to how many people buy those same brands of sweaters and lipsticks and the number is disheartening.
Kinder Is Not Always Cheaper
In the past, many big businesses have fallen back on the excuse that non-animal testing procedures and ingredients are more expensive to manufacture. They claim the change from their current ingredients to kinder ones would mean more expensive research costs (to find the right ingredients or materials), labor costs (for personnel during research/development, training, etc.), and in the switch (buying the new ingredients or materials). I’ll admit that this may be true in some cases. I don’t know enough about all industries to know the cost of buying “x” amount of polyester vs. the same amount of leather. It would also be true in most cases if companies went cold-turkey overnight (pardon the animal cliches). We cannot expect a company to change 100 percent of their manufacturing processes overnight. We can, however, expect that they work towards it for the near future.
International Brands Answer To Many
Remember those Indian givers I mentioned earlier? Many of those first cosmetic companies to stop animal testing have been reported to still sell to countries, like China, that require animal testing to sell in their countries. This means that while the products sold here in the states may not be tested on animals, somewhere these companies have labs that test on animals to be in compliance with laws set forth abroad. This is pretty common and an issue that consumers in countries where people are more concerned with animal rights don’t really consider until it gets slapped in black in white in the news. Even those who have good intentions sometimes bend their morals to be able to become worldwide brands. It’s sad, but it makes sense if you’re thinking purely from a corporate growth perspective and not an animal rights perspective.
We Are Not The “Ideal” Consumer
Let’s take vanity out of the equation for a moment, because no one likes to be told they are not someone’s ideal customers. Business gurus and successful entrepreneurs tout the idea of an ideal customer. When you’re starting your business you’re supposed to think of who is the perfect person to buy your products, dream them up if you will, and that is who you need to tailor your image for and target your marketing to. This is a great business practice and one I use in my own business. It works, it really does. But when big businesses, or even small ones, are interested in expansion and growth and whom their ideal woman or man is – vegans don’t often make the short list. This goes back in part to our numbers, but also in a more substantial idea when it comes to businesses already doing well.
When you choose to not spend your money at one store because they offer a few leather or wool products and spend it instead at another store, how does that show any store that their consumers want faux leather and synthetic materials? It doesn’t. They don’t see that you went elsewhere because of the materials they offer, they see that people spending money in their stores buy leather, so they continue to stock it. They see that people who do not shop at their stores demand kinder materials, and they ignore it. Why appease a consumer who is not their shopper and probably wouldn’t outnumber the people who currently shop there (that do buy their products)? What guarantees do these establishments have that we’ll all of a sudden start spending our dough in their stores if they make these expensive changes? There is none. That is the main problem I see and understand the perspective of from brands, as a business owner myself.
So how can we, as consumers, make an impression on these big businesses when all these factors are piled against us? We let our wallets create the demand we seek. We reward businesses that have several synthetic materials and faux leather options because those are going to see the demand the most. We start buying the “good” products and ignoring the “bad” products – a lot. A whole heck of a lot! That’s how businesses that already have these options are going to see the demand within their own stores, which is where the real change needs to happen in order for our message to click for them. I believe they’re more likely to respond to consumer demands if those demands are within their own four walls. It becomes personal; it becomes something they can’t afford to ignore.
As for cosmetic companies, and or other non-ethical industries, this method isn’t going to work. I can’t think of a cosmetics company, for example, that would test on animals for all but one or two of their products. The same goes for most ethically sourced, sustainable, or fair-trade products (but not all). In these cases, we will have to continue speaking out against them, spending our dollars elsewhere and exposing the negative sides of their business.
I’m not saying my way of creating consumer demand is better than anyone else’s way and I’m not saying that by doing anything I’ve suggested we will certainly create the change we wish to see. I can’t say that – no one can. I’m asking you to use your consumer purchasing power smarter. Don’t punish an entire brand because of a few products – punish those products and show the brand where their real investment money lies in the future. You cannot help someone who truly doesn’t want to be helped, but you can make them feel the problem a little more noticeably than before. And that feeling is powerful.