GUEST COMMENT Blockchain in fashion: Bringing sustainability and transparency – InternetRetailing

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Rachel Pritykin, User Experience Designer at LiveArea

Rachel Pritykin, User Experience Designer at LiveArea

Like all other industries, fashion is hoping for a speedy recovery from the pandemic. More than any other, however, sector demands have changed. Today’s consumers expect brands to provide a friction free experience with transparent ethical standards in production. For these companies, there is hope from an unlikely saviour: Blockchain.

 

Supply chain issues are not a new problem. Unsustainable manufacturing, unethical labour practices, and overproduction are widely reported, and consumers have taken notice. Today, 64% of shoppers look for ethical or sustainable features when making a purchase. While the sector must meet demand, they must also drive ethical standards and meet sustainability commitments.

 

That’s where blockchain – a decentralised, chronological, and public ledger of transactions across a peer-to-peer network – comes in. Blockchain can track a garment’s full life cycle, from design through to sale to ensure transparency and traceability. The supply chain needs connectivity and accountability and blockchain can deliver it.

 

Traceability across the entire lifecycle

 

When a raw material leaves its place of origin, the lifecycle of a garment begins. Cotton for example, is made into a fabric, dyed, stitched together to make clothing, then mass produced for distribution. Manufacturers and suppliers must have full visibility into the production process, and this starts with having a permanent digital record of every step of the journey so consumers can understand the environmental and social impacts of the product. As well as providing greater insight to customers, retailers who gather this information can also become more efficient and less wasteful when designing garments.

 

Lenzing’s TextileGenesis™ platform is paving the way for retailers to utilise Blockchain. Blockchain assets called “Fibercoins” are issued to physical shipments of Lenzing fibres. Raw materials to finished goods are monitored in real-time and provides heightened transparency into the flow of physical goods.

 

Catering to the conscious consumer

 

One of the biggest behavioural changes in recent years is consumers becoming more conscious about their impact on the environment. To meet this demand and avoid criticism, fast fashion retailers have been entering the resale and rental clothing markets. The UK government recently unveiled plans to support sustainable fashion in a bid to tackle waste in the fast fashion industry and hold manufacturers to account. Such developments may ultimately see more brands enter the resale market and kickstart additional green initiatives. While this may be effective for high street brands, luxury brands are seeking new ways to maintain the value and longevity of their products. Again, blockchain is here to help.

 

LVMH recently partnered with Prada and Cartier to develop Aura blockchain, the first private global blockchain open to all luxury brands. Consumers will be able to scan a QR code associated with their purchase and see the entire history of the product. This technology will allow brands to strengthen their relationships with customers through transparency and even storytelling while protecting against counterfeit products as items get resold on second-hand markets.

 

Working conditions in the spotlight

 

Working conditions have traditionally been an afterthought in manufacturing. With clothes often made far from the point of sales, workers’ rights have not been under a microscope with false audits throughout the supply chain commonplace. Labour laws in some countries are not strictly enforced or effective, and brands can overlook or struggle to manage the production process. Tracking the lifecycle of a product ensures the monitoring of working conditions in factories is substantial and workers receive equitable and liveable pay.

 

Levi’s, for instance, partnered with Harvard’s School of Public Health to develop a blockchain platform to monitor well-being in the workplace. Surveys looking to gather insights on conditions, health, and safety at the factories were put on this platform and given to workers to fill out. Gathering this data on a blockchain ensures that the information is anonymous, traceable, and impossible to alter.

 

The future of retail transparency

 

Blockchain in fashion hasn’t hit the retail mainstream yet, but the advantages are too strong to ignore. Empowering factory workers to securely report unethical practices will ensure labour conditions can be enforced – and brands can set a new global standard for the welfare of factory staff.

 

Authenticity for fashion brands is no longer a choice – it’s a must. Providing increased transparency with claims to sustainability in the supply chain can improve trust between a brand and consumer, which is essential to the future of a business. Blockchain is the next technological advancement to bring improvements to the supply chain, textiles, and the well-being of garment workers, to name just a few. Early movers stand to benefit.

 

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