Traceability matters in making fashion supply chain sustainable

The fast-fashion model is a streamlined system involving rapid design, production, distribution marketing and disposal which means that retailers can push smaller quantities of greater product variety and allow consumers to get more fashion and product differentiation at a low price.

According to Business Insider, fashion production comprises 10% of total global carbon emissions, as much as the European Union. It dries up water sources and pollutes rivers and streams, while 85% of all textiles go to dumps each year. Even washing clothes releases 500 000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.

The Quantis International 2018 report found that the three main drivers of the industry’s global pollution impacts are dyeing and finishing (36%), yarn preparation (28%) and fibre production (15%). The report also established that fibre production has the largest impact on freshwater withdrawal and ecosystem quality due to cotton cultivation, while the dyeing and finishing, yarn preparation and fibre production stages have the highest impacts on resource depletion, due to the energy-intensive processes based on fossil fuel energy

According to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, emissions from textile manufacturing alone are projected to skyrocket by 60% by the year 2030.

The two most important actions required to make the fashion industry sustainable are bringing transparency in the supply chain and providing digital credentials for consumers to choose sustainable products

The way is to give digital identity to clothing through digital mapping and credentials. The ultimate aim of digital mapping is to cut down wastes, bring more transparency in the supply chain, proving the authenticity and bringing social change

The blockchain and big data could help in mapping the path for making the fashion industry circular. The circular model is based on minimising wastes and reuse of materials and without digital mapping, it is impossible to adopt circularity in the fashion industry

Blockchain technology allows authorised users to submit data and validate information which is unable to be manipulated by any single party. So when there is a record of an event occurring and associated data is logged to the chain, that event is unchangeable and a record of the event occurrence can be viewed across permissioned networks, based on agreed-upon privacy settings. 

This means we can retrace the entire history of the object on the supply chain, maintaining a validated log of events available to permissioned users, at the touch of a smartphone. This functionality is relevant and useful for recycling since it provides a fundamental foundation for any verifiable and defensible claims that might be made about products

If regions and industries are to effectively transfer from a linear economy to a circular one, the interconnecting of data can be the spark that catalyses them into self-perpetuation. Within these new ecosystems, traceability mechanisms and Chain of Custody (CoC) models can substantiate any content claims that stakeholders within the value chain may wish to make. Evidence points generated through these models and mechanisms provide evidence that recycled material or ‘waste’ remains in-play as a continuing resource and doesn’t end up being stockpiled or enter the landfill.

Additional transparency of material flows could allow industry and government entities to access more data to build out reliable life cycle analyses and assess the environmental impacts of a product or value chain more accurately.

There is untapped potential to drive efficiencies and reduce costs with cross-industry blockchain applications for their supply chains. This enhanced ‘layer of transparency’ on the blockchain also supports further data insights on material flows, facilitating the prevention of fraud.

Product provenance is becoming a requirement for today’s consumers. They want to know the products they purchase are produced with high levels of environmental and social responsibility. Increased transparency over the production process enables the industry to share information with consumers that allows them to connect more deeply with the narrative of a product and buy-in more fully to the values of a brand.

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