Streetwear brand Alyx has launched a blockchain project during the Copenhagen Fashion Summit this week, that details the origin of its garments.
Developed in collaboration with Avery Dennison, and powered by EVRYTHNG, the tech is showcased via a smart label featuring a QR code that consumers can scan with their smartphones. They will then have access to all the information about the garment’s journey through the supply chain, as well as its sustainability credentials.
To implement the traceability of goods, Alyx’s tag uses a system powered by Iota, the German blockchain foundation. The system enables a distributed ledger technology that has no centralized authority. It means that a transaction is documented every time a product changes hands, generating a permanent history that’s easily accessible.
The use of blockchain can also help to authenticate products, or identify counterfeit goods, a priority for luxury consumers.
““Blockchain and distributed ledger technology is the future for effective brand protection. By supplying product information, supply chain traceability and transparent dialogue with the consumer, the brand’s authenticity is globally secured,” said Alyx’s designer Matthew Williams.
The new tag is expected to roll out to consumers later in 2019.
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Sports and outdoor brands adidas, Reebok and Patagonia are leading the charge in the fashion industry’s mission towards transparency, according to Fashion Revolution’s latest index released today.
This year, the three brands are tied at the top reaching 64% of 250 possible points, marking it the first time any fashion brand has crossed the 60% threshold since the report’s first edition in 2017. Completing the top five is Esprit (62%) and H&M (61%). H&M will likely soon move a few points ahead as only yesterday it announced it is now listing all supplier and factory information on individual products on its e-commerce pages.
“The progress we are seeing this year, coupled with the feedback Fashion Revolution has received from brands, suggests that inclusion in the Fashion Transparency Index has motivated major fashion brands to be more transparent,” says Sarah Ditty, Fashion Revolution’s policy director and report author. “We are seeing many brands publishing their supplier lists and improving their scores year on year,” she adds.
The Index rates fashion brand’s and retailer’s transparency levels by measuring their performance in five key areas: policy and commitments, governance, traceability, supplier assessment and remediation, and spotlight issues.
This year, the list of brands analyzed increased from 98 to 200. Other brands ranked include C&A, Puma, Marks & Spencer, Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy, all who remained in the top 10 from 2018, scoring between 51-60%. Luxury, specifically, is beginning to open up to displaying supply chain information, though numbers are still low compared to high performers: Gucci and Bottega Veneta, the highest scoring brands to be reviewed, make the 31-40% score.
“There is still a lot of work to be done”, adds Ditty. “Detailed information about the outcomes and impacts of their efforts is still lacking. The average score amongst the biggest fashion brands and retailers is just 21%, showing that there are still far too many big brands lagging behind.”
“Major brands are disclosing very little information and data about their purchasing practices, which means that we still don’t have visibility into what brands are doing to be responsible business partners to their suppliers.”
This year, the report also deep dives into four of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which it believes is imperative to achieve greater transparency in the fashion industry. These are: Gender Equality, Decent Work, Sustainable Consumption, Production and Climate Action.
For example, findings highlight that brands are not disclosing enough information on their efforts to empower women and girls and increase gender equality, or how they are addressing gender-based labor violations in garment factories. Furthermore, it emphasizes that although 55% of the 200 brands publish annual carbon footprint in their company websites, only 19.5% disclose carbon emissions within their own supply chains, which is where over 50% of the industry’s emissions occur.
Since Monday, Fashion Revolution has been running its annual Fashion Revolution Week, a global series of activations and marketing efforts that aim to advocate for increased transparency in the industry, while calling for consumer to ask brands about who made their clothes. The report’s publishing date, as well as the accompanying global awareness campaign, aligns with the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed 1,138 people on April 24, 2013.
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H&M has quietly rolled out a blockchain proof of concept (POC) for a single product on sale at its Arket brand.
A beanie hat comes with a tag attached to it that brings up a blockchain experience when scanned. The result is a decentralized view on traceability of a single item.
Users engaging in it can learn about the story behind the product and its origins. The initiative is in collaboration with blockchain startup Vechain, and can be scanned with either a NFC reader or the VeChain mobile application. Resulting content includes where the item was made, what it’s made from and washing instructions for the user.
The experiment was discovered by a consumer who soon posted it on Twitter. The accompanying video to that Tweet has since resulted in 20,000 views.
This focus on storytelling and provenance from the H&M group comes as a time when the industry is increasingly driving towards transparency. Arket was one of the first in the market to publish the supplier details of individual products on its website, and continues to innovate to find new ways of doing so.
Blockchain is an interesting choice nonetheless – one that is hyped as a buzzword, but still somewhat shrouded in mystery for the industry in terms of understanding its real use cases, as well as the benefits it draws beyond a standard database.
A deep-dive into the reasons Arket is doing it has already sprung up on Reddit, with users speculating as to the advantages presented. As one user said: “Truth is, no one really knows the extent that blockchain will play in the future and in what industries it will succeed. Everything right now is a POC with regards to blockchain.”
There’s also a heavy point to raise as to whether the immutability of the technology – thus the idea that products can be authenticated by the trustworthy platforms on which they are being captured – can ever really be relied on for the very fact there are still human beings involved. That leaves margin for error as well as corruption.
The entire notion of transparency in the industry is one that is shifting at rapid pace nonetheless, with greater trust and reliance placed on those things being revealed compared to just a few years prior. H&M group’s head of transparency, Nina Shariati, for instance, shared on the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent, the fact that it was only 10-15 years ago H&M used to lock its supplier list in a safe in Stockholm, with only five people having the code to get to it.
POC or not, the use of blockchain is evidence the company has not only come a long way since, but continues to lead in thinking about innovations that could be useful and applicable to the industry.
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Luxury group Kering is introducing an organic cotton that is 100% scientifically traceable, thanks to a new supply chain transparency innovation.
Launched in partnership with Supima Cotton, Italian premium textiles company Albini Group, and forensic textile testing service Oritain, the aim is to validate product authenticity and instil consumer confidence.
It does so by using forensic science and statistical analysis to examine the chemical properties of the fiber, creating a unique chemical fingerprint that links it back to the field in which it was grown. This makes is possible to verify at every stage of its lifecycle that it hasn’t been substituted, blended or tampered with. Only an exact match shows that the organic cotton is authentic.
Cecilia Takayama, director of the materials innovation lab at Kering, said: “At Kering, we are focused on sustainable raw material sourcing and this innovative technology for our organic cotton supply chain will enable our Materials Innovation Lab greater visibility to verify farming best practices and fibre quality; ensure integrity within the supply chain; and guarantee alignment with our Kering Standards.”
She added that “traceability in fashion’s fragmented and global supply chains is imperative to create real change”.
Visibility of the supply chain has been the first big task for fashion businesses that have typically relied on various third party providers, with little awareness of exactly what goes into the textiles they then use.
Supplier transparency has historically been the industry’s best-kept secret, but such lists are increasingly now being published. The next step in this comes with a level of scientific and technical input to drive and verify authentication – which has to begin with fiber and fabric transparency.
Advancements in the chemical analysis of fibers, as seen here, is what makes it possible to match the identity of cotton to its inherent natural identifiers attained during growth, Marc Lewkowitz, president and chief executive officer at Supima, said.
Kering is ultimately looking to create industry standards for traceability. It is aiming to use this advance to implement complete supply chain verification for organic cotton production or the impact it has had on farmers, workers and the environment. The innovation contributes to the group’s 2025 goal of 100% supply chain traceability.
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“Having technology, and having leadership that adopts it, are two very different things,” David Roberts, thought leader and distinguished faculty member at Singular University, said at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in Denmark this week.
Keynoting the second day of an event dedicated to sustainability, he urged the audience to recognize just how much innovation is out there – from new materials to recycling tech. “This isn’t a technology problem, it’s a leadership one,” he explained.
Arguably, there is still big work to get such tech to the sort of scale the industry needs, but the wider challenge of uptake in order to make that possible as well as viable, is key.
Roberts pushed for the leaders in the room to therefore be the ones that stand up and try to make a difference – or to kickstart the industry into doing so. He referenced a quote from Robert F. Kennedy to illustrate it: “Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a wave that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
The notion of the summit is indeed to inspire those sort of ripples to start taking place from individual sources, but this year’s underlying theme was also about collaboration. Speakers from Dame Ellen MacArthur to Eric Sprunk, COO of Nike, pushed for the industry to truly start working together.
“When it comes to igniting sustainable innovation, we believe in the power of collaboration. To design the future, we must do it together,” said Sprunk.
Complementing that notion is the CEO Agenda, a recently published list of seven priorities from the Global Fashion Agenda, the organization behind the summit.
Three of those priorities – supply chain traceability, efficient use of water, energy and chemicals, and respectful and secure work environments, can be implemented right away, Morten Lehmann, CSO of the Global Fashion Agenda, said on stage. But the other four – sustainable material mix, closed loop fashion system, promotion of better wage systems and the fourth industrial revolution – are focused more on the future. “They are transformational. You need to be aware of them, but no company can act on these alone. It needs to be the industry together.”
Added Sprunk: “This event is a catalyst for action for all of us. No single person, company or government will be able to do it alone… Just as in the design process, the best ideas come from a mash up of perspectives, talents and capabilities.”
MacArthur further pushed for regulation to drive this forward: “Regulation is important, but a common vision for that regulation is critical. We need collaboration around a vision so that everyone is working in the same direction, and only through that will this be possible.”
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Starbucks has announced the launch of a pilot program working with a select number of farmers to develop real-time blockchain technology that follows the coffee bean’s supply chain journey.
This will help encourage a sense of familiarity between supplier and customer, which in turn enables brands to forge a deeper sense of trust and loyalty within their consumer base. This is something we are starting to see emerge in other industries also and can easily apply to fashion and luxury. Here, using technology to understand the supply chain holds similar benefits to that of Starbucks’ new model – showcasing transparency, making brands accountable, and creating more emotional connections.
It is therefore a great example of a cross-industry initiative that can be applied to fashion at a time when everyone is looking to respond to increasing consumer demands around transparency.
Last year, Starbucks worked with over 380,000 farms, meaning the traceability technology has the potential to have exponential impact on Starbucks’ operations in the years to come.
Working with farmers in Costa Rica, Colombia and Rwanda, the aim of the program is to drive positive impact to its suppliers, and further cement the coffee giant’s ethical sourcing commitment. “Over the next two years, we will look to demonstrate how technology and innovative data platforms can give coffee farmers even more financial empowerment,” said Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks. “We’ll leverage an open-source approach to share what we learn with the rest of the world.”
With this program, Starbucks is hoping to demonstrate how technology and data platforms can give farmers more financial independence and confidence – although details of this are yet unknown. The company is working with Conservation International, which is already their partner on other sustainability initiatives, to measure the impact of the traceability technology and better understand how it will benefit its suppliers.
According to Arthur Karuletwa, director of traceability at Starbucks: “This could be a seismic change in an industry that hasn’t had much innovation in the way coffee moves across borders and oceans,” he said. “At the same time, I’ve met farmers who have very little by way of possessions, but they have a mobile phone. Digital has become the economic engine of this century, and traceability preserves the most valuable assets we have as human beings – our identity.”
Karuletwa believes that beyond transparency the tool will give farmers and coffee drinkers an “authentic, seamless, dynamic” one-to-one connection. “Elevation, process, entomology, soil composition, terroir, nutrients, rainfall – it carries little meaning if I’m not also talking about the rest of what makes the coffee possible, and that’s the people,” he said. “The taste of coffee eventually disappears off the palette, but what never leaves you are the stories of a people and the places. My hope is that this project will create familiarity between farmers and customers and enhance empathy, a commodity we have great need of today.”