As consumers become more demanding, the fashion industry is being forced to look inwards. With the help of technology, brands - both on the luxury and high street end - can satisfy customers who long to buy authentic products that haven’t damaged the environment.
Blockchain technology is one of the main ways that can help. A form of smart technology, it works as a shared ledger that allows transactions and manufacturing processes to be recorded. The decentralised system means that no one party owns the blockchain, making any alterations to the ‘blocks’ known to all involved.
Although the technology was invented almost a decade ago, it has taken until now for companies to start to design a unified system. Verisium is one company who aims to cater to luxury fashion brands that want to simultaneously reduce counterfeiting and engage in conversation with their customers. Its system works by embedding a near-field communication (NFC) chip into each product and loading this information onto the Verisium blockchain. Customers simply have to scan the product using a smartphone app to see where it has come from.
Not only will this get rid of paper-based authentication certificates but it will help build a sense of trust between brands and clients. It’s an apt time to implement such a process considering the number of fakes in the industry is only rising. Current statistics show that counterfeit products currently take away $500 billion from the fashion industry every year.
As well as detecting and stopping counterfeit products from being sold, blockchain technology can also be used as part of a brand’s sustainability initiative. As an item of clothing goes through the manufacturing process, each company responsible can input data. When a customer finally receives the finished goods, they will be able to scan the chip (which is often either NFC or radio-frequency identification (RFID) and see exactly where the product’s material was sourced from and how it progressed to end up in their hands. This even includes specific timestamps and location mapping.
As well as Verisium, Fashionista reports that there are a couple of other companies - including SourceMap and Provenance - working on supply chain blockchain. In 2017, Provenance teamed up with London-based fashion designer Martine Jarlgaard for a smart clothing collaboration. Each of her garments were embedded with a smart label that could be scanned to show every step in the production process, right down to the name of the alpaca that provided its coat for a sweater.
Larger fashion brands such as Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba are working on their own blockchain system. However, this can transform a simple procedure into something much more complicated. A system like Verisium’s that can be used by multiple brands and easily understood by consumers worldwide seems a more successful method than one that excludes.
But first, fashion needs to learn to share.
Reported by Lauren Sharkey