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Traceability and Transparency – these are the keywords that really matter

Applying traceability technologies in the fashion industry would bring benefits to companies. From QR-codes to RFI-chips, an insight of some practices that help to achieve it

The gap in traceability and visibility

The terms sustainability and transparency have become a cornerstone for fashion companies that want to appeal to customers, who are acquiring conscience on what are the practices that are doing harm to the environment, or to the society. The practices that – after the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster – are said to lead the way towards sustainability. Still, once they know what these are, customers have to rely on what companies communicate, and they have to trust them, unless they can have access to datas. «The fashion textile industry has a staggering value of 2.4 trillion», states Jesse Dostra from REMOkey. «Many of the sources of information about the industry are fragmented, incomplete, and unreliable». To keep track of what companies declare and see if they’re going towards sustainability or if they’re doing greenwashing. «If we take a look at the top hundred brands in the world, and in particular the sustainability goals they’ve set, we will see for example that for 2025, they want to have 100% sustainable fibers». This implies that the market for this kind of fibers has to triple its production in the meanwhile. Companies have to apply ways to keep track of these fibers, if they want their customers to rely on them. «Reality is that 95% of the fashion industry has no visibility across their supply chain tiers. There’s a huge gap in traceability and visibility». What does the term traceability imply for the fibers market? «Traceability provides assurance around the facts», explains Dostra. It is the ability to trace the history, application or location of a product while tracking it along the supply chain and the recycling process. It founds the concept of transparency, the ability to share and disclose the traceability data with stakeholders, who can be consumers, suppliers, employees and investors. Traceability is achieved through tracers, which then form a chain of custody, which is «the ability to trace the change in legal ownership of the product as it moves along the supply chain». Tracers are the key-point of the tracing process: they can be physical markers or chips in the fiber, and thanks to them «is possible to verify the presence of a fiber in a textile product at any stage of the supply chain».

One way to traceability are certifications

«The ideal supply chain is linear», continues Dostra. «It’s dispersed and fragmented, and supply chains are long, often switching and changing. There’s a high level of dynamics in it». There are difficulties in tracing the origins and sources of products that end up in stores. «People care when they know, and as we do not know where our products are coming from it is confusing and often difficult to know what is sustainable and what is not». Ninety-five percent of the fashion industry has no visibility across supply chain tiers. This translates in Sustainable Material ranking first, and Transparency/Traceability ranking second in the top five apparel sourcing topics on the agenda for the next five years. One way to traceability are certifications. They are based on global standards for setting requirements for third-party validation of the contents to be recycled. In their certification processes, companies take into account the chain of custody and aspects that imply society and the environment, besides securing chemical practices. In the case of recycling, which is what REMOkey focuses on, the standard is set by Global Recycled Standard (GRS), which is a global standard for setting requirements for third-party validation of recycled content. Products verified by GRS should contain at least 20% of recycled content. Two forms of carrying this certification are QR-codes or RFID-chips. Which are two forms to communicate about transparency. They are «a big forward transparency, but they are vulnerable to copy», points out Dostra. 

The yarns and fabrics originate from recycled raw materials, from textile by-products or used clothes without the use of dye, Comistra

Textile genesis’ Fibercoins: a blockchain technology mixed with GS1

QR codes are based on an automatic generation, which then directs the customer to a website or a webpage, «and this is also what we use for REMOkey. Taking the example of a project with European Spinning Group, we communicate the savings of our products and also the GRS certifications through the QR-code». RFID-chips differ from QR-codes because «they are physical chips which are connected to sensors, but are also vulnerable, and it’s the same with QR-codes. At the same time it’s a step forward, if we look at the traditional supply chains and the traditional level of transparency and traceability». Dostra brings out the example of Textile Genesis, winner of the 2020 Global Change Award. They trace raw material to origin and use tokens as a unique fingerprint, creating in the meantime, a digital copy of the physical product. Their product is based on blockchain technology, mixed with GS1. The result is what they have called Fibercoins™. They have «created the first fiber-to-retail traceability data standard for the apparel ecosystem based on the GS1 framework». To achieve traceability, tracers have to be there. They can be «invisible signature in the garment, like a nano marking fiber. They can be part of the textile finish or part of the thread/polymer blockchain». Blockchain can be considered a digital vault, explains Dostra. Thanks to nano fibers, a digital copy of a physical product is created which is stored in the digital vault, the blockchain. «If you want to create a solid chain of custody, this is going to be a part of the future of traceability». Traceability is still not adopted by the industry though. «The supply chains are long, especially in time, and they’re ever changing. A lot of brands make use of different supply chains, and if you want to create traceability you also have to create consistency in those processes, which is difficult». Where there is progress through this path is because there has been a demand from consumers and governments. After the 2020 pandemic, consumers and governments have taken a stance on creating standards for traceability and transparency, «simply because of the huge impact the industry is having». Laws are being developed towards these goals. Dostra brings the example of the Netherlands: in the first months of  2021 the government has been working on material passports (ACM), «but also the consumer and markets have written a letter in May 2021 stating that all the sustainability claims of textile companies will be researched. Greenwashing will be forbidden».

REMOkey supply chain transparency through data validation and collection

The life cycle of a garment could start with a fiber recycled from other materials, which is turned into a yarn, woven into fabric, and finished into a product. To achieve transparency, a brand that oversees the process, wants to communicate the steps of the process and the savings, in terms of the impact on the environment. REMOkey offers to brands to map the supply chain of their garments. Then, results are simplified for the communication to the customer, who can have access to the details through QR-codes. «We take a look at the supply chain of a specific product. We have to know, before we start calculating, what is the exact composition of this product, what is the amount of recycled content», explains Dostra. «For this we have a remote information system, which attracts the information we request. On this information, from the supply chain partners of our customers, we create calculations, always done analyzing the product life cycle and the savings». The results are communicated to customers through three components: water, CO2, and energy savings. «That’s the first step, but that calculation needs credibility. We see claims being made by brands, but how is this credible?». REMOkey maps the supply chain, thus creating transparency through data validation and data collection. «Then we have an independent third-party company assessment, with a partner for sustainability, which follows and tracks all the protocols, which should be then taken by the supply chain partners and to discover if anything is wrong or not. This also creates a very clear overview of the supply chain: are these partners credible? Is fair pay being conducted? most important for us, the GRS certifications, because those are an independent verification of the authenticity of the recycled fibers», says Dostra. «We have a calculation, we have been making sure this is credible. But then the brand wants to communicate the full journey of the product, its full traceability». 

Lampoon reporting: the need to protect supply chain 

REMOkey allows the brand to share the survey’s results through a landing page. «It is a digital product landing page, where the brand can share the sustainable performance of its products. This is connected with a QR-code, which is put in the hang tag or the label of the product». From a business point of view, traceability can cost time and money, in the short term. «It would cost a lot more to companies, resources and money, if they don’t act now, making investments in creating traceability through their supply chain». It requires time commitment and investment to achieve this goal. «The point is to look at transparency as an opportunity». The feeling in the industry is that there’s the need to be «cautious about sharing certain information with clients, or with customers, because the supply chain has to be protected. From a business point of view I can understand it, to some extent, but at the same time the market will definitely move towards a system where transparency will be the standard. That should create and ensure that the social structures are being put in place properly, that raw materials are the raw materials they say they are and not fake or counterfeited». The way to protect the supply chain is to declare through transparency practices what happens step by step.

REMOkey 

The work stands for the Recycle Movement (REMOkey). It helps brands to calculate their products’ environmental savings and impact, and enables them to communicate clearly and concise about their product’s footprint. Its mission is to help create awareness and recognition of recycled fabrics through the label and digital product page, and so inform consumers about the story of brands’ products.

Ariadne Innovation 

Is a platform that wants to inform, inspire and connect initiatives for a more sustainable textile industry. Ellie Talks is the format through which Ariadne acts.

Sofia Busignani

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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