Gone are the days when people would place an order and wait for it to be delivered, without knowing how and where the product is. Today, customers want clear transparency about where their products are and what they are made of.
However, the complex network of global and fragmented supply chains of apparel industry sometimes leads to lack of transparency. Also, this network is often linked to unsustainable practices including both environmental and social dimension. Blockchain technology, through its decentralised data storage solution, helps in providing transparency to its users while ensuring that the information is accurate.
The Synergy of Block Chain and Apparel Industry
What is Blockchain…
Whenever we hear the word ‘blockchain’, we probably think of bitcoins. While the technology originally started with its use in virtual payment, other uses of this have rapidly been developed across different sectors. According to digital trend, it is a database that is validated by a wider community, rather than a central authority. In simple words, it is a decentralised structure that makes data available to everyone, while maintaining security and making data trustworthy.
Blockchain relevance in apparel industry…
Until a few years ago, apparel industry relied only on automation, but lately, it has started discovering possibilities of Industry 4.0 concepts. Blockchain is one of them. Though it might be a new term for the industry, there are retailers that are using this technology to view each and every step of the production in a factory where they place orders. Blockchain assures the users that the information received is accurate, since it is protected by secure, decentralised data storage solutions.
The very first implementation of blockchain in the apparel industry was done in collaboration between Danish fashion designer Martine Jarlgaard and blockchain technology provider, Provenance. They developed a pilot project to track the product from farm to finish. Each step in the production process was registered and tracked in the blockchain via the Provenance app and registered through all the consecutive steps in production: from spinning the yarn to knitting it into a garment. This process even creates digital history of the garment making process. A unique digital token is assigned to each garment, which provides digital history of each step taken to create that product, with information like where the garment has been manufactured and what raw material has been used for its manufacturing, etc.
All this information can be traced through the app, which anyone interacting with the garment can have access to through QR code or NFC enabled labels. A recent example of the effectiveness of blockchain in the apparel industry is the ‘Blockchain-based Clothing Authenticity Traceability System by Waltonchain (WTC). The project is a joint collaboration between Waltonchain and Kaltendin, China’s leading high-end clothing brand.
The project applies RFID core technology to the smart management system for smart production, warehousing management and seamless shopping experience. The technology has helped the brand to handle its production from the start till the end. This is considered one of the most revolutionary application of Big data and IoT in the apparel industry.
On the production side, the technology provides assistance starting from order receiving till the garment leaves for the warehouse. It starts with automatic data filling from production order, label printing, barcode printing, automatic print record storage, factory real time order receiving, conformation and amendments, automatically generating packaging reports. All the data is directly imported in blockchain and factory information is tracked in real time which improves the production efficiency.
In the warehouse, the technology starts with fast scanning of garment on arrival. The real time data storage of the information reduces errors and related costs, associated with it. The recorded information updates the inventory in real time. The RFID system further helps the item to be quickly relocated for faster management and search.
Once the garment reaches the store, it can be automatically scanned for the number and hence details. In the store, the smart closet rack system uses a multimedia platform to display the clothing design concept ideas to simulate sales while reducing the number of shop assistant queries.
The smart fitting room automatically records the garment pick-up and try-on rate. It then automatically generates the periodical statistical reports, conducts digital analysis of market demand, quickly fills orders and establishes a quick response high end clothing supply chain. The system also automatically sends the merchandise report to the warehouse for automatic replenishment of the product, which further helps them to save the sales loss due to unavailability of the product.
The platform utilises blockchain to upload the apparel circulation information including the material, design, production and logistics. Customers can instantly check the garment material content, which satisfies the demand for sustainable production and gives them details of what is their product made of.
The most important benefit of using blockchain is that it allows the data to be more interoperable. This makes the data informational to be shared and be available with manufacturers, suppliers and vendors. It maintains transparency which helps in reduced delays and disputes, preventing any blockage in the supply chain. All this is possible due to the real time tracking of the product, which makes the chances of misplacement rare.
The other benefits that the apparel industry can get by using the technology are that it has the capability to make the production cycle more transparent. The use of this technology can help the manufacturers build greater trust in business along the fashion supply chain, enabling them to provide verified information about the material, processes and people behind the product. The technology helps in record keeping and provenance tracking as the product information can be traced through embedded sensors and RFID tags. It even provides detailed history about the product right from its origination to where it is at the present time.
The data is made available to a wider audience, which is accessible from multiple locations from around the world. The higher level of security that the technology has makes the data secured and trustworthy. Moreover, this technology can also be made for a private environment too where the data will be accessible only to the limited persons, having access to it.
One of the most significant benefits is transparency. Today’s customers are more aware and advanced as they know about the unethical and environmentally harmful practices being conducted by their suppliers. So they want to be responsible customers who buy from responsible suppliers. It is impossible for companies to make sure that human rights are respected, working conditions are adequate and the environment is safeguarded without knowing where their products are made and that’s why transparency is essential.
The author is Chairman at Apparel Sourcing Week
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETCIO.com does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETCIO.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly.