Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Normalising ethical shopping with elephants and underpants

I have only recently become aware of Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA), an organisation charged with encouraging production and consumption of ethical clothing and footwear in Australia.  This new information raised a number of things in my mind about shopping, and how ECA can go about building on the great work they already do to gain broader traction in the consumer market through behavioural change. 

1. Close the gap between Behaviour and Intent
Yes of course I want to shop ethically, don't we all? In fact colleagues laugh at my rationalised outrage about the proliferation of pirated DVDs.  But take me into a shop, fit me in a dress that is perfection (refer last blog!) and my unconscious sees me reaching for the Visa.  You may have seen this play out after BP's oil spill - a conscious decision to boycott BP was undone by sheer convenience of their bowsers.

As I've mentioned in other articles, Dan and Chip Heath call this the "Elephant and Rider" problem. The unconscious - the elephant - is so large and mindful that the conscious - the Rider sitting a top the beast - struggles to get behaviour to be consistent with intent.  A familiar example is the desire to get healthy - we may consciously decide to go to the gym and eat more vegetables, but gee the couch feels good right now so let me start tomorrow!

So what can ECA do about the divide between intent and behaviour?
  • Find the Bright spots - identify and promote influential people who are shopping ethically
  • Point to the Destination - paint the picture of what an Australia with ethical consumption looks like
  • Script the Critical Moves - tell me what I need to do as a shopper. The calling card ECA make available are a great idea to influence retailers.
  • Find the Feeling - capitalise on the positive feeling that comes from shopping ethically, make me feel miserable about imagining one of my loved ones being treated unethically in an Australian sweat shop
  • Tweak the environment - bring the ECA brand forward - stitch it into the garment as a point of pride. Which brings me to...
2. Use the peacock principle - Personal identity on display
Clothing is one of the most important signals we give about ourselves, and ECA has an opportunity to use its logo as a way for people to identify themselves as ethical (and who doesn't want that?).  Would people really want to carry the logo on their clothing?  Well...
  • Calvin Klein smashed a previously entrenched behaviour - underwear is for under-wear - by tapping into the low slung jeans/boxer above the rim trend and branding the banding. From that point on, large sections of the population adopted branded undies as a form of personal status.
  • Louis Vuitton bags market their craftsmanship as justification for premium pricing, but what people really buy into is the opportunity to display the branded fabric and logo - otherwise any other bag would do.
  • Powerbands became a common wrist accessory across professional and amateur sporting fields. A weird plastic bracelet - who would go for that? People who wanted to be, and be seen to be, high performance. 
  • University t-shirts are a classic example which project the message that, whilst I may not have gone to Harvard, I am smart enough to know it's full of smart people with whom I want to associate my brand. 
3. Focus on small behaviours not big behaviours
By this I mean that ECA can't change the big behaviour of going to the shops, but can change the small behaviour of what goods are consumed. This is where their educational and labelling efforts can really make a difference. Reusable enviro bags you see in supermarkets are an example of this strategy. My big behaviour - shopping for groceries - was not interrupted but the small behaviour, how to carry them, was.  And when you think of it, remembering your bags, carrying them empty and storing them is a much more burdensome task than selecting from an ethically produced range of clothes and footwear.

4. Strip the issue of anonymity
The principle here is that responding to an abstract concept like 'ethical treatment of people involved in the manufacture of goods' can be hard for people to grasp let alone act upon.  Likewise the scale of the problem can be overwhelming.  In Mother Teresa's case, she tackled poverty by acting for one. If you can help one person, you can help many. World Vision accomplish this by sponsorship of individual and identifiable people - they give a face to the people that need help.  ECA could follow suit by bringing forward the faces of those involved in the ethical manufacture of clothing and footwear, making shoppers feel personally engaged in resolving the issue.

 Many more strategies can be employed by Ethical Clothing Australia in tackling exploitation in the Australian textile clothing and footwear industry. One thing is clear, this will be a battle for the heart of Australian consumers not the mind.  For more information I encourage you to visit the ECA site  to find out how you can take action.

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