The exhibition told the story of what is currently being done to tackle consumer demand, trigger a behaviour change in the key consumer group and reduce rhino poaching. These are discussed in Nature Needs More’s symposium presentation titled: Reinventing Magnificence: Status from Contribution.
In our current society what we buy defines us. Social status, self-identity, social differentiation and self-worth are today linked to consumption. This addiction to consumption for status and self-worth gain has in recent years been termed affluenza. There is nothing rational about being addicted to buying, yet this is not an individual disease; it is a manufactured affliction. We have just forgotten (or never experienced) what the world was like without being bombarded by thousands of adverts every day. Currently, in the Western world, opting out of this consumption addiction requires both a secure identity and massive willpower to NOT conform.
During interviews with consumers of illegal wildlife, it became apparent that an evolution occurred in their consumer behaviour. Once they had purchased more mainstream legal manufactured luxuries, they evolved to legal rare luxury products, often associated with endangered species. For example, many people would be surprised to find out it is legal to have a car interior upholstered in elephant skin and a range of rare, exotic leather.
While consumers must take responsibility for the consequences of their purchasing behaviour, business practices, marketing and media play their part and must be interrogated.
But what happens when legal luxury is not enough? How do you stand out?
Illegal luxuries are one avenue to achieve status differentiation. Thankfully, doing something illegal is not for everybody and most people shun going down this path. But that doesn’t change the fact that the pressure to differentiate yourself exists and that usually when a handful of pioneers and early adopters create a new market, others will follow. Especially if the suppliers can get insanely rich in the process, with minimal risk, such as in the case of wildlife trafficking.
The luxury fashion sector must play their part in tackling the destructive luxury market. With the increasing focus on ‘Fixing Fashion’ to ensure the industry is more ethical, one issue the industry says is a priority is supply chain transparency. Certainly, I see very little evidence that wildlife is factored into the emerging sustainable fashion strategy, as was first mentioned in March 2018 blog Sustainable Fashion and Wildlife
While we need governments to effectively legislate to save the natural world and ensure regularly systems are fit-for-purpose and adequately resourced, we need business to take responsibility for the part it plays in driving up the desire for rare and precious endangered species. Ensuring wildlife is factored in to the evolving sustainable fashion strategy and contributing to the costs of developing supply chain traceability is just a start.