Supply Chain Traceability: A Pathway to Sustainable Fashion
The fashion industry is under increasing scrutiny from consumers who demand proof of sustainable production. Supply chain traceability powered by blockchain may be the answer.
Consumers increasingly demand to know where the clothes they buy come from. For many, the desire is to be able to pull out their phone, scan a QR code, and view information in real-time on the source of all the raw materials in the garments they want to buy.
That requires supply chain transparency – a current gap within the fashion industry.
Supply chains in the fashion industry can be long, complex and sometimes poorly understood. There’s an added layer of difficulty because supply chain transparency is more than just knowing where the raw materials came from, it is also about who made them and how.
Beyond Tier One
Most fashion brands want to source sustainably, but many companies have not gone beyond their immediate tier one suppliers: the reality is that raw materials go through many steps before they find their way into a consumer’s closet.
Take natural fabrics like viscose rayon as an example. Seedlings take root in a nursery before being transferred to a plantation to grow into trees. Harvested logs are then sent to a mill to be processed into wood pulp which goes into viscose-rayon production. Next, the viscose fibre is spun into yarn, sent on to a fabric maker, and shipped to garment factories. Obtaining access to accurate data at every juncture can be extremely challenging for a retail brand.
Follow Our Fibre; Every Step of the Way
As a vertically integrated manufacturer, Asia Pacific Rayon (APR) has a head-start on this process. Every step from seedling to shipment is carefully tracked. This process is supported by Follow Our Fibre initiative, which uses enterprise blockchain technology developed by Perlin. Using Perlin’s value chain traceability tool allows APR to key in data at all critical points in our supply chain, creating a robust product journey that can be easily traced by customers.
APR’s customers can scan a barcode on a viscose bale using a dedicated app to see detailed information on where that bale was produced, where its source material came from, and how it was shipped.
Data is gathered automatically at each stage of the value chain using integrated software tracking programmes. This includes information on planting in the nursery, time of weighing at a weigh bridge and delivery to the mill.
This information is then uploaded to a blockchain ledger where it can be viewed. The advantages of using blockchain is that once published, the data forms a permanent record that cannot be altered, giving all parties in the supply chain a peace of mind. Over time, further functionality and multifactor data authentication can be added to create an even fuller and more robust picture.
A ‘Systemic’ Challenge
One of the challenges today is the lack of platform standardisation as different value chain actors in the fashion industry develop their own traceability systems. For consumers to be able to scan a QR code in a clothing store for product source information, the various systems will need to be interconnected.
A universal platform based on blockchain has interoperability as an in-built feature. One of the most powerful applications of blockchain is the ability to easily integrate data and functionalities from a diverse range of complementary technologies, systems and processes. It also allows for peer review of the information to ensure the data accuracy.
This is important because a transparent supply chain also helps support brands’ engagement with environmentally conscious consumers. Being able to talk about where raw materials are sourced from and how products are made, means fashion brands can empower consumers to make informed decisions based on the social, economic and environmental impact of their purchases. There is nothing more powerful in ethical marketing than showing consumers how businesses are positively impacting the communities they work with.
Ultimately, APR aims to share its supply chain data in real-time and make other sustainability related information such as mill performance, carbon emissions and sustainability reports available on the app. We are under no illusion that full supply chain traceability equates to sustainability—tracing a raw material back to its source does not necessarily mean that the raw material was sourced sustainably.
A traceable supply chain represents a step in the right direction in transparency. When complemented with certification, disclosure of key sustainability metrics and impact, it forms a clear pathway towards Sustainable Fashion.