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DNA Tagging Can Effectively Authenticate Denim, Study Shows

Where brands and retailers may have had difficulty authenticating where their denim fibers came from, DNA has now proven a viable solution to the challenge.

DNA molecular tagging is an effective tool to authenticate denim, as DNA tags can maintain their integrity even after being exposed to things like bleaching and abrasion, according to results confirmed in a new study conducted by Applied DNA Sciences Inc. and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

The study, published in the September/October 2018 issue of the AATCC Review, a publication of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colors, also suggests DNA tagging can be applied to other premier fibers for “field-to-finished-garment” authentication.

At the FIT labs in Manhattan, denim swatches were treated with DNA molecular tags produced by Applied DNA and then exposed to stonewashing and bleached washing. Samples were then analyzed at Applied DNA’s laboratories in Stony Brook, N.Y., where the DNA tags proved to remain intact and suitable for forensic analysis.

“A denim fabric was chosen because it is a unique product, distinguished by its washed styles and distressed look,” said Dr. James A. Hayward, president and CEO of Applied DNA Sciences. “Denim jeans are typically exposed to a stone and bleach wash, which is the harshest type of treatment made to any apparel product. If we could identify our DNA markers after this type of wash, we believe any cotton product could be identified at any stage in the supply chain.”

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Applied DNA said the test results mean DNA tags of this kind could soon be ready for testing at a full manufacturing facility to verify the authenticity of a finished denim garment.

“This technology will enable brands and manufacturers to track their fibers from the farm through to the finished product, allowing for a more transparent supply chain,” said Sean Cormier, FIT assistant professor for textile development and manufacturing. “Traceability can also help verify certain sustainability claims about commodities and products, helping ensure good practices and respect for people and the environment in supply chains.”

Applied DNA said it has developed a technology to produce small DNA fragments or identifiers on an industrial scale. The process involves the use of purified enzymes to make DNA fragments, with each containing enough information to be used as a DNA “molecular bar code,” similar to an ink bar code on a label. DNA tags are applied during the cotton ginning phase—where cotton fiber is separated from the cotton seed—allowing the fiber to be tracked and authenticated throughout the full supply chain.

According to Applied DNA, there has been a lack of commercially available test methods to determine where denim fibers were grown, which has been a concern for manufacturers because of the problem of global counterfeiting, which—including all equipment and products—is expected to grow to $1.82 trillion by 2020, up from $1.2 trillion in 2017, according to the Research & Markets “Global Brand Counterfeiting Report 2018.”

The denim authentication problem is significant since most American cotton, including Upland cotton used to produce denim, is shipped abroad and combined with other cotton where it can lose its identity, Applied DNA said.

“The denim study has opened the door to a world of possibilities,” Hayward added. “These results suggest that it is now possible to assign several unique DNA molecular tags to any cotton product, regardless of finish. Future projects will tag cotton intended for denim use, as well as other premium fibers such as wool, cashmere, as well as man-made fibers like viscose, nylon, recycled polyester, and also bio-based fibers and recycled materials.”

The need to identify and authenticate materials to combat counterfeiting has generated increased interest, with varying technologies being explored. Germany-based materials science firm Tailorlux has developed IntegriTex, a concealed traceability system that uses fluorescent markers to give fibers an “optical fingerprint.,” while New-Zealand-based Oritian uses forensic science to analyze the naturally occurring chemical properties of a fiber, creating a chemical fingerprint for the product that links it back to the field in which it was grown and cannot be altered, copied or adulterated.