Dan Ariely on Stopping Fake Fashion: Part Two

Dan Ariely The Honest Truth About Dishonesty

In Part One of our interview with Dan Ariely, the author discussed the unique place fake fashion holds in the world of counterfeiting.  Ultimately, we learned, counterfeit fashion puts wearers in a position for a special, prolonged kind of cheating that begets, well, more cheating.  Here, Ariely explains the problem in further detail, and discusses ways for the fashion industry to counteract that particular, fake-induced behavior.

The High Low:  How could your insights into fake fashion be used to deter fraud and counterfeit goods?

Dan Ariely
:  I don’t think that the people who produce fake goods read my book and say let’s stop.  But I think it does point to the importance of the industry to control them, and for individuals to think about the social and personal implications of what they’re doing.

If everyone is truthful we know who we’re dealing with, but the moment anyone starts cheating, the whole system collapses.  Think about online reviews, if everyone is truthful you can trust them.  If there is one fake review from time to time, this can be okay as well, but if I write 100 different positive reviews about my own book, I’m destroying the system.

With counterfeit, it’s the same thing — when people start cheating by buying copies, the whole system can collapse.  When most people are honest, those who buy counterfeit goods are doing what we call “free riding.”  But, if everyone buys fake goods, the value of the originals is diminished.  In this sense, we can destroy the pond we’re drinking from.

The value of Louis Vuitton goods, for instance, is affected by how much people purchase counterfeit versions.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

HL:  You also point out how cheating is somewhat contagious.  How do you think that plays into counterfeit business?  Is it helping it grow?

DA:  A lot of our ideas about what is and isn’t acceptable come from others.  When I ask students about downloading music, they say that they do so, and so does everyone else.  In fashion, as with lots of stuff, the rules are not as clear.  What’s illegal officially is clear, but how bad should we feel about it?  There are a lot of social forces around that shape our understanding of what is okay and what is not.  In some countries, students think plagiarism is really bad, and in some places people think that’s the way you work, that’s just university.

These days there are more and more people buying counterfeit goods and proud of it.  I met a woman who tells everyone how what she wears is counterfeit, and she’s causing damage.  Once people think it’s okay, and they’re not embarrassed, it’s hard to stop the behavior.  So the question we need to ask ourselves is how to stop the deterioration, and how to get the embarrassment back?

HL:  Yes, how do you restore a sense of shame that something’s wrong?

DA: The truth is that I don’t know.  We haven’t looked at that yet, so I’m just speculating.  One thing we know works is Catholic confession.

If you have 10 fashion items in your closet, and five are real, and five are fake, you most likely think of yourself as a fake person.  How do we transition people from a fake to a real environment?  We get people to perform an act of reconciliation followed by opening a new page? Another thing — we need to work on the idea that this kind of behavior is immoral or unacceptable, and in my book the main contributor to this kind of dishonesty is rationalization.  In fashion there’s all kinds of ways to rationalize: ‘oh the fashion world won’t get my money anyway’ or ‘they’re making so much money.’  There are so many steps between the person and the action.  And all of this rationalization makes it very easy to buy counterfeits, rationalize it to ourselves, and keep on thinking about ourselves as honest, wonderful individuals.

One honesty-promoting method Ariely has found effective is Catholic confession.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

HL: How do you lessen these steps?  How do you make people more aware of the consequences of taking money away from individuals?

DA: With fashion, there’s a lot of pride involved, and sometimes you even know the designer’s personal story.  Now if you understand you’re taking money away from the designer, it’d be useful in creating a higher sense of responsibility and lower level of dishonesty.  So, the idea here is to reduce for people the distance between actions and their consequences, make people aware of the social ramifications of their actions.  On top of that, it would be helpful to have some kind of act of reconciliation where, no matter what people have done before, they can stop the game and be better from that point on.

What might reconciliation look like?  Basically you have two components that you need to worry about.  The first one is to say what you’ve done wrong, and the second is to ask for forgiveness.  For example, if you take the act of reconciliation in South Africa, it was about saying “we’ve done things wrong and we’re going to start fresh.”  I think you could start the same way with illegally downloaded music, if you tell people “okay, forget everything you already have on your computers.  We’re going to give you permission to keep those as if they’re actually legal, but from now on we’re going to start fresh.”

With fashion, you can’t make something bought as a fake into something real.  With music, the file is the same regardless whether you paid for it or not.  This is why any reconciliation related to fashion would have to include something like returning the counterfeit items and starting fresh.  Maybe people could get some compensation, like the approach to gun programs (when people turn in weapons and get money for them).  Designers could have a system in which you bring in your fake item and get a discount on some real things, and from there on, people would promise to start fresh.

HL:  If people don’t ultimately mind what they do to filmmakers by buying pirated movies, why would they feel any differently about designers?

DA:  In terms of caring, I think there’s a tremendous human capacity to care and a tremendous human capacity not to care.  But in fashion things are slightly better than in movies, because with movies, when you think about who you’re taking money from, you don’t think about the producers, the director, or the actors.  You probably just think about the studio.  And the studio, as an idea, is too general, not emotional, and we can’t really feel bad taking money from such an abstract entity.

With large design companies it’s kind of the same thing — the public doesn’t always have to think about who they’re specifically taking money from.  But if there’s one designer that you like, and whom you think about in particular, then you can start to care about them.  This is another reason why design firms should have a face, with the designer in the middle, making it clear that they are the main person involved.

HL:  So all in all, do you have any tips for shoppers who embrace knockoffs?  What might get them to view their own actions differently?

DA:  In the experiments we have so far, we show that authentic goods didn’t increase honesty, but counterfeit goods decreased it.  This means that in an important way what we wear projects negatively or positively on what we do. I have an engineer friend who wears his engineering ring, which for him represents his long-standing commitment to the profession.  He looks at it, and remembers his commitment (at least this is what he is saying), and this makes him more honest.  The same general approach can work for fashion goods.  We need to think what there is about fashion goods that could remind us about who we are and who we want to be, and in this way we could not only decrease the use of counterfeits, but we might also increase honesty more generally.

7 Responses to “Dan Ariely on Stopping Fake Fashion: Part Two”

  1. nettie feldman

    If the originals weren’t so expensive (Louis Vuitton bags are mostly made of faux leather, and cost the earth, why?), then people may not be clamoring for the fakes. And I think that people who buy fakes don’t think they are fake, but are getting a deal and are happy about it.

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