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Have you ever wondered where your favourite pieces of fashion come from? The fashion industry is taking steps towards creating a sustainable future, but unclear supply chains cannot always guarantee that materials used are ethical and sustainable. Experts note that brands are aware of only 7% of their supply chains, and are unable to trace their materials back to specific suppliers. But although it seems impossible for the industry to truly be transparent if it is built upon opaque production networks, the solution lies within blockchain technology.
The fashion industry is beginning to use blockchain technology to prove the authenticity and sustainability of their products. Blockchain technology is a decentralized tracking system that allows brands to store information about their supply chain. Each garment can therefore be traced back to its raw materials, revealing production processes and ensuring authenticity.
But what does this mean for the industry? And why does it matter?
“Sustainability and traceability are two sides of the same coin,” notes Amit Gautam, founder of TextileGenesis.
With globalization broadening the horizons of fashion, companies are turning to countries in the global south for inexpensive labour and materials. Leading to unethical and unsustainable labour and environment practices, and therefore, brands have historically been hesitant to communicate their production processes.
The Fashion Transparency Index 2020 states that most brands communicate only 11-20% of their production process. Brands do publish some information about their policies, suppliers, and procedures; However, they often omit essential issues such as forced labour, gender inequality, waste production, microplastics, water use, circularity, etc.
These unclear supply chains therefore make it extremely difficult for customers to make informed decisions based on environmental sustainability and ethical production.
Innovations in technology such as the Blockchain efficiently guide the industry towards a more sustainable and ethical future.
Simply put, blockchain technology is a tool that allows companies to store information regarding their supply chains into one decentralized and distributed network. Decentralized networks ensure that the data is not stored in just one location, and can be easily accessed and is verifiable by anyone who has access to the network. It’s therefore impossible to edit information or to corrupt systems in such networks.
Each record in the production process serves as a block in a chronological chain. The chain is completed with a QR code attached to the final label of a garment, which can trace the garment’s history across all stages of production.
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By scanning a QR code or an NPF chip, customers can access data that not only shows the materials used and the locations of production, but also the amount of carbon dioxide or water used during production. It essentially creates a product’s digital ‘passport’, tracing it through locations, suppliers, and garment workers. This will guide customers towards purchasing from brands that are ethical and sustainable.
Time is invaluable– but with regular tracking and dispatch systems, delays are inevitable. With Blockchain technology, both customers and merchants can track products throughout the dispatch process. GPS trackers allow customers to trace deliveries; and as each step of the process is recorded on the blockchain, it reduces the likelihood of packages getting ‘lost’ on the way.
Counterfeiting has always been an issue that plagues the luxury fashion industry, and even today, brands aren’t able to trace and eliminate counterfeit goods. Technologies like watermarks, serial numbers, and special labels have not proven to be effective in the long run. With blockchain technology, the authenticity of luxury products can be verified by customers before they make their purchases.
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While brands like Burberry are developing independent blockchain technologies, designers all over the world are using existing technologies to guide them through the fashion supply chain.
In 2017, Martine Jarlgaard, a designer from London, produced garments with ‘smart labels’ that allowed customers to trace the entirety of the production process. Since then, many brands, such as Satoshi Studios, and London based designer Martina Spetlova, have worked towards incorporating blockchain technology into their garments.
Creating a network
The strengths of blockchain technology lie within its decentralized and distributed nature. Therefore, in order to efficiently maximize on these strengths, key players of the industry must come together and lend each other their expertise. Not only does it help create an industry standard for transparency and traceability, but it also urges brands to work towards sustainable solutions. But the climb uphill is more difficult for some than for others.
An efficient blockchain network can be immediately deemed as ‘unrealistic’ due to various reasons. For luxury conglomerates, sharing of data, expertise, and other information goes directly against most non disclosure policies. Moreover, fast fashion brands with more complex and unethical supply networks might find it difficult to integrate with this new technology. However, it is impossible for the industry to work towards transparency and sustainability without their transition.
Image via voguebusiness
“We help users really understand that what they’re buying is beyond a t-shirt; they’re buying into resources and this is changing the perception and shopping habits of customers,” says Lorenzo Albrighi, co-founder of lablaco.
Blockchain technology gives us essential knowledge and provides an insight into the fashion supply chain. These insights can help the fashion industry through a revolution, and can guide unclear and opaque supply chains towards sustainability, traceability, and transparency. But the true question remains: is the fashion industry ready for this change?
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