And if blockchain made its way into the fashion industry? This technological tool is increasingly used by companies, in sectors as diverse as finance, energy and food. Big players such as Carrefour have launched blockchain themselves, but a myriad of start-ups have also based their business model on this technology. Blockchain, said to be tamper-proof, makes it possible to store and transmit information throughout the industry, from producer to manufacturer to distributor, in a transparent and secure manner.
It is therefore not surprising that other sectors have adopted the technology as well. The tech start-up Provenance, initially oriented in the food sector, worked with designer Martine Jarlgaard to create the first chain of clothing stores that integrates blockchain. The collection was presented in May 2017 at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the world's largest event in sustainable fashion.
Complex and globalised fashion supply chains
All clothing labels were assigned a QR code that allowed a simple scan to trace the complete history of its supply chain. Each yarn of wool was even associated with the name of the alpaca that had supplied it. This collection "highlights the role of blockchain towards greater transparency and serves as a response to the demands of certain actors in the fashion industry," says Provenance.
In fact, the lack of traceability and transparency of fast fashion giants such as H&M or Primark are often singled out by associations and consumers. But blockchain just goes back to the source. "Fashion supply chains are far too complicated to be traced with traditional person-to-person communication," says Fashionista's Leonardo Bonanni. According to Bonanni, the Source Map founder for a software that uses blockchain, “we need a very advanced technology to follow fashion, especially in fast fashion where collections are rapid and so are global subcontractors."
“There’s no need for a technological tool to respect human rights"
In the long run, we can think that consumers, now aware of the origin of their clothing, could push brands into changing their practices. In June, the NGO Global Labor Justice released a report denouncing working conditions in factories supplying brands such as H&M, Gap and Walmart. The workers were insulted, harassed and consistently threatened.
However, relying on a technology, as sound as it is, to revolutionize industry practices, only acts as smoke and mirrors, according to Nayla Ajaltouni of Éthique sur l’étiquette. "The business model of fast fashion is based on the break-up of the value chain, poor quality, pressure on wages, and low production costs. If brands do not respect human rights, it is not because they lack a technological tool; if they want it, they can already do so all along their supply chain. It's not blockchain that’s going to change things”.
Informed consumers: soon to be the standard
For smaller brands, on the other hand, who have more difficulty moving up and down the supply chain, blockchain "can be useful," says Ajaltouni.
For the moment, the fashion industry remains discreet about these experiments. Galeries Lafayette and H&M, for example, did not "wish to communicate" on this subject when being contacted by Novethic. Experiments are underway, but the subject remains confidential, as confirmed by Valérie Moatti, a specialist in the sector.
One thing is certain for Bruce Thompson, founder of Brightlabel which specialises in the digital labelling of brands, in a few years, "providing product information will become standard and not providing it will become a red flag."
Marina Fabre @fabre_marina