Supply chain transparency in fashion can win consumer trust

Dr Gary Adams, President of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, knows that ensuring supply chain transparency is vital to the future of the fashion industry

In an era of environmentally conscious consumers there has been a noticeable increase in demand for greater transparency around the clothes we buy. According to a survey conducted by Fashion Revolution, 69% of consumers in European markets want to know how their clothes were manufactured. It is up to brands and retailers to provide this information, but they need help from solution providers to do so. 


Supply chain transparency in the fashion industry 

Supply chain transparency has therefore grown in importance, not just for brands and retailers, but throughout the industry. Trust plays such an important role in winning brand loyalty that gaining it from their customers is one of the main concerns for companies across the board. In fact, our research conducted with the Economist Intelligence Unit found sustainability leaders at brands and retailers view consumers as the largest driver of today’s sustainability agenda.

It should also be noted that supply chain transparency and traceability has become a key focus for several new and proposed laws including the New York Fashion and Sustainability Act, which will mandate progress reporting across a number of key environmental and social areas. 

The question is - how can brands and retailers provide supply chain transparency in an industry where supply chains are often accompanied by a lack of transparency, making it difficult for companies to assess their sustainability outcomes? This is where technology can help. 

A number of transformative technologies are helping to reshape supply chain processes and streamline raw material origin. We’ve seen initiatives across the industry where brands, NGOs, and even big tech companies have harnessed either Artificial Intelligence (AI), which can be used to enhance the accessibility of data, IoT data from machinery, or blockchain, a digital record-keeping technology which can track chain of custody.

How blockchain can help create a transparent supply for the fashion industry 

Increasingly, blockchain is being seen as a solution which can increase supply chain transparency at a product-specific level. Synonymous with cryptocurrencies, blockchain is a technology that can be used to record a series of events, such as the transfer of goods from a manufacturer to a supplier or the passing of a checkpoint at a border.

By integrating blockchain enabled software with digital IDs, it is possible to automatically create, view and share the complete sequence of events leading back to the origin of an item. With blockchain, data cannot be edited or removed, which offers a level of authenticity of information that was previously impossible to achieve.

Blockchain is proving that it could be a real asset for brands and retailers in their ambition to be more transparent. Recognising the benefit an initiative which incorporates blockchain could have, the Trust Protocol provides the world’s first sustainable cotton fibre with article-level supply chain transparency. 

The blockchain technology plays an integral part in our Protocol Consumption Management Solution (PCMS), which was designed to leverage a powerful combination of technologies across the Protocol Platform and TextileGenesis platform. It records and verifies the movement of U.S. cotton fibre along the entire supply chain beginning at the gin into the finished products of brand and retailer members.

Our solution creates a transparency map that authenticates the origin of the U.S. cotton, along with the names and locations of Trust Protocol mill and manufacturer members that were involved in each step of the process, into the finished products that are shipped to brands and retailers. This information assures supply chain transactions through double verification by ensuring availability of Protocol-eligible materials and by verifying commercial invoices and shipping documents. 

Going one step further, upon receipt of their finished products, Trust Protocol brand and retailer members can claim data-backed, verified Protocol Cotton Consumption Units based on their individual consumption and which contains a proportional amount of the aggregated environmental metrics from Trust Protocol grower members. The farm-level environmental data captured includes land use, soil carbon, water management, soil loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy use. 

It’s clear that technology is set to play a significant role in helping brands become more transparent. As their key external stakeholders push for greater insight into the garment making process, technology can offer a crucial opportunity to win trust.

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