Blockchain and the Future of Fashion?
Sustainability and supply chain transparency within the fashion industry are two key issues that brands need to tackle as consumers increasingly hold companies to account when it comes to their eco credentials. Blockchain has emerged as an instrumental advance in assisting fashion houses when it comes to the traceability and ethical production of their garments. Traditional supply chains in fashion are obscure and complex, with brands all too often unable to guarantee that the final product is the result of a sustainable supply chain along the way. However, blockchain technology looks set to remove many of the difficulties that surround eco-friendly fashion and play a major part in its future.
So, What is Blockchain Exactly?
A blockchain is a digital ledger of transactions that allows consumers to track an item’s origins and purchasing history. In fashion terms, you can basically visualise it as decoding the DNA that makes up any garment to offer end-to-end transparency from conception to creation to retail.
And How Can Blockchain Help Fashion Go Greener?
Blockchain actually has the potential to shape the future of sustainable fashion in a few different areas and looks set to eliminate more dubious ‘greenwashing’ practices that are currently employed within the sector.
First up is its ability to provide full traceability for the fashion supply chain. Environmental factors are now key to consumer spending habits with IBM’s US Retail Index for 2020 report finding that more than 7 in 10 consumers say it is at least moderately important that brands offer “clean” products (78 percent), are sustainable and environmentally responsible (77 percent), support recycling (76 percent), or use natural ingredients (72 percent).
The digital provenance capabilities of blockchain therefore offer an efficient and secure way for brands to demonstrate their credentials of sustainability and environmental concern. By allowing for the creation of a unique digital identity for every single product, the lifetime journey of any garment can be traced all the way back to its raw material and right the way through to its sale and even resale. Such technology thereby eliminates the complexity and obscurity associated with traditional
fashion supply chains and offers the significant advantage of authenticity and attainment of consumer trust. With information regarding raw materials and manufacturing methods much more easily accessible on the internet and social networks, any suspicions regarding a company’s sourcing and production practices can quickly become viral and cause substantial damage to their reputation.
Enabling the end consumer to access reliable and secure records regarding their purchases offers immeasurable benefit to a fashion company’s standing.
According to a 2019 report by consulting firm McKinsey & Company, sourcing sustainable material has become a top priority for fashion companies, and yet few have achieved that ambition as yet. As Amit Guatam, founder of TextileGenesis told CNN Business, “The textile industry is one of the most fragmented industries on the planet.” One simple clothing item such as a t-shirt can involve a supply chain that spans multiple countries and various manufacturing stages. His company is making use of blockchain technology in order to produce a permanent record of every single stage of production.
Since its launch two years ago the company has already won a Global Change Award and worked on a pilot project with global fashion chain H&M.
Making it Harder to Fake It
With blockchain, once the digital tokens have been logged, they cannot be altered and act as a unique ‘fingerprint’ for an item of clothing or accessories. Results can’t be manipulated, thereby not only increasing consumer confidence but also making it more difficult for counterfeit items to be produced. Such an asset has a double advantage of not only increasing the desirability of luxury fashion items, but also adding an extra layer of security when it comes to the authenticity of a product. Production processes for fake replicas are often highly destructive to the environment and exploitative of workers and therefore consumers can be reassured that not only are they buying the real deal, but their purchases also aren’t part of such destructive and exploitative manufacturing procedures.
And the more fashion houses that adopt blockchain, the more they will be able to protect their intellectual property and safeguard their designs. When the origins of garments can be traced and those copies don’t possess such a chain or information, counterfeit items can easily be separated from the authentic originals.
Local and Ethical Sourcing
The potential of blockchain can also be applied when it comes to such issues as cultural misappropriation, quality guarantee and Km0 initiatives. The transparency it offers will ensure that companies are offering fair remuneration to indigenous workers, valuing local and traditional skills and boosting handicraft industries that might otherwise be in decline. It can also assist in greatly reducing the carbon footprint of any fashion garment. Italy, for example, has launched blockchain projects to protect a ‘Made in Italy’ label, meaning that consumers can both support local economies and be sure that their purchase hasn’t crossed several continents in the production process.
Blockchain, therefore, looks set to become a major force in the fight to make the industry clean up its act. In fact, for those brands who resist the adoption of blockchain or similar technology in the charge of sustainable fashion, the question will be, what are they hiding? It remains to be seen whether brands can continue to operate with obscure and non-transparent processes as today’s increasingly conscious consumer chooses to let their purchase power do the talking.