Blockchain technology and the future of fashion

The code behind the clothes

By Renee Fortune

Blockchain is a buzzword that has dominated public discourse for the past few years, with more and more people exploring what it means for everything in existence to have a digital footprint. Explaining what it is and how it functions can get pretty technical. But put simply, blockchain is a technology that allows multiple users to record information in a digital ledger of transactions that is distributed across the entire network of systems along the blockchain. This technology has served to democratise information and create a system that is almost impossible to cheat or hack. 

Like the metaverse, or Web 3.0,, blockchain is a work in progress. As such, its application across sectors is still being shaped and refined. More often than not, we associate blockchain technology with the emergence of cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin. However, its applications extend across almost every industry. In this experimental phase, brands and businesses are tapping into the potential of blockchain technology to promote one key factor: transparency. 

Towards a more transparent fashion industry, powered by blockchain

The brilliance of blockchain technology is that it is the first innovation to introduce a shared record-keeping system. You could (if you were philosophically inclined), think of blockchain as the container for universal truth – at least in the sense that a publicly available and distributed ledger promotes more transparency and traceability than was ever imagined possible. 

With the global call for industries like fashion to become more accountable to consumers, blockchain couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Sustainable fashion brands in particular, now have an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate that their supply chains are compliant and in line with global sustainability goals and principles. 

In a practical sense this means that fashion brands can now attach a digital token to each of their garments. By scanning that token, consumers can gain access to the entire production pipeline. This could entail looking into the most granular details like which farm or manufacturing plant the fabric was sourced from, the name of the designer, the team of artisans responsible for the production of the garment and how the garment was transported from factory to storefront. 
Supply chains under scrutiny: going beyond ‘who made my clothes?’

A great example of this principle in action is Textile Genesis™ – a partnership between leading sustainable material producer, Lenzing, the brand Armed Angels and wool producer, Schneider Group. Textile Genesis™ the world’s first traceability platform designed and built for the global apparel and textile industry. How does it work? If you’re a techy, brace yourself, because this is some seriously cool stuff. 

The Textile Genesis™ platform works according to a system of Fibercoins™, which are digital tokens attached to shipments of fibres and garments in the Textile Genesis™ stable. This includes sustainably produced and pioneering materials, Lenzing™, Ecovero™, Tencel™ and Authentico™ fibres – many of which are used by the brands you’ll find on Plain Tiger. These tokens are the unique ‘fingerprints’ of the fibre and allow manufacturers, brands and consumers to authenticate the origin of the fibre and conduct due diligence checks on aspects such as environmentally-friendly production processes, socially sound labour policies and ethical governance practices. 

The system allows for any textile asset to be digitised, from the fibre and the fabric, down to the filament and the yarn. Where before, brands and consumers had no insight into how textiles are produced, where they come from or under which conditions that are produced, now we get to peek through every backdoor and alley to uncover the truth. We can ask, ‘who made my clothes?’ but we can also ask, ‘who made the fibres to make the fabric to make my clothes?’ 

In this way, blockchain technology is shedding light on one of the darkest parts of fashion production – the supply chain. It is an important part of the solution towards a more transparent future for fashion, and addressing issues around social and environmental justice, that we simply didn’t have enough information on to tackle in any significant way. 

And it doesn’t end there

The best part is that blockchain’s application in the fashion industry does not end with the supply chain. As an authentication tool, it provides consumers with a way to validate fashion products and to avoid buying counterfeit products. This function is particularly important given the rise of the second-hand luxury goods market, where third-party vendors and their market now have a way to check that garments are in fact authentic. Blockchain is already being used in this way by companies in the food and beverage industry, with high-end whiskey distilleries producing scannable tokens that can be used to verify the authenticity of the product.

Change is on the horizon

While blockchain technology is yet to be implemented en masse by brands outside of the financial services industry, exciting prospects lie ahead for the fashion brands of the future, particularly in the sustainability space, where traceability and authenticity is key. 

Sustainable fashion brands now have the opportunity to back up their narratives with a legitimate data trail that anyone can access, at any time, from anywhere. Watch this space – first adopters are already disrupting the sector and paving the way for smaller labels to become industry pioneers. Exciting times lie ahead. 

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