During the fashion revolution week, I spoke with several vegan designers who participated in this event. They all shared the same conviction: a brand should not market on veganism because it works as a repellent for most customers.
The vegan community is still not large enough to allow vegan designers to sell their products just among it, so they should rely on non-vegan customers as well, and to attract them it seems vital for the vegan designers I met to cautiously keep quiet about veganism.
At first sight, it may look counterintuitive. How can an ethical and vegan fashion brand drive away customers? These conversations made me angry but, to be honest, I knew that there was an element of truth in their assertion. My non-vegan friends tend to laugh at me with my “plastic shoes” despite being absolutely gorgeous and they prefer to catch up one-on-one. I definitively spoil the party by not eating meat in front of the others!
Once at home, I did some research and I found an interview given by Rebecca Walker Reczek, doctor in Marketing, in the April issue of the Harvard Business Review that may explain what happens in people’s consciousness and confirm to some extent the vegan designers’ intuition. But this confirms only their diagnosis and absolutely not their solutions! The study is based on different social experimentations. The title of the article speaks for itself:’ Ethical shoppers don’t inspire us, they bug us’.
Roughly, the article explains that when someone sees an individual behaving more ethically than him, by purchasing a garment from a brand that cares about ethics for example, while he doesn’t do so, he feels threatened and guilty in his identity. In the depths of himself, he knows he is wrong and to overcome that feeling, he puts down those who shop ethically, thinking them ugly and strange. This is a cognitive bias to protect one’s self-esteem from a disadvantageous social comparison. It’s a natural reflex present in all humans. It occurs in many circumstances but it is particularly strong in ethical contexts because how ethical people feel is a really important part of their identity.
On the contrary, if an individual already considers himself as an ethical shopper he doesn’t experience the same sense of threat. That is why, to attract ethical customers, who look for a proper information, it is necessary that vegan brands remain and show overtly what they really are.
Furthermore, I assume that the social comparison bias doesn’t occur only at individual level. Another article by Alden Wickerit from ecocult.com seems to demonstrate that the same phenomenon also happens at corporate level. She quotes Melanie Linehan, founder and CEO of Animal Behaviour: “it’s hard to be seen as a fashion brand that is also vegan instead of a vegan fashion brand. Vegan fashion gets encapsulated into its own community, but we’re not invited into the larger fashion community. Going against the grain isn’t celebrated as much as seen as inferior’. The well-established brands, which don’t spend too much on ethics, fear for the advent of new successful vegan brands and try to belittle them.
Vegan fashion disturbs because it reflects the real level of ethics that people and brands may have.
It’s really crucial to understand the point for being successful as a vegan brand. I agree that vegan brands should target non-vegan customers. But rather than trying to appeal to people’s consciences, and risking waking guilty feelings, vegan brands should make the ethical choice the fashionable one for everyone.
This absolutely doesn’t mean for them to hide or abandon their ethics. On the contrary, they have to be irreproachable in terms of transparency and sustainability in their approach. No compromise with the products and processes!
But they should be cool and rely on goodwill rather than on culpability to lead people to more ethical choices. Lots of people just want to be more ethical and need to be fostered and gently pushed to take the next step.
Vegan brands, let your imagination run wild and make the path to veganism easy, trendy and cool!