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Is That Textile Truly Sustainable? How Blockchain Can Verify Fiber Sourcing

As consumers and fashion brands increasingly look for low-impact fashion, sustainable materials command a premium. But this growing demand has made eco-conscious fibers a target for fakes.

During a recent Sourcing Journal webinar, sponsored by Lenzing, Amit Gautam, CEO and founder of TextileGenesis, pointed out the problem of commodity fibers masquerading as higher value materials. According to him, the amount of cashmere or recycled polyester being marketed is greater than what is actually produced. Panelists from Lenzing and sustainable brand ArmedAngels also stressed the need to certify whether the fibers ending up in garments are actually what they claim to be. This enables both brands and fiber producers to have better transparency with their customers and end consumers.

“People are making all kinds of claims; it’s a highly fragmented industry,” said Gautam. “The only way to control that kind of spurious claims is you digitize your physical volume at point of origin and control the volume entering into the network.”

TextileGenesis is seeking to provide this traceability for supply chains from sustainable fiber to finished product through its blockchain-powered platform. By assigning digital “Fibercoins” according to the specific weight of fiber at the point of its origin, the solution is able to prove authenticity with a “fiber forwards” approach. Each time a transaction takes place, such as the fiber being shipped to a spinner, the digital coins change hands with the material.

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Lenzing and ArmedAngels are among the early partners to pilot TextileGenesis’ solution, using the technology to track and verify fibers including Lenzing’s EcoVero viscose.

Just as there are non-sustainable fibers being passed off as eco-friendly, Gautam noted there is also a problem of forged certificates. TextileGenesis works with certification bodies including Textile Exchange to verify that documents are valid. The system can also pull in the results of forensic tests on textiles, connecting physical verification with the digital traceability.

Along with authenticating raw materials as they pass through the production process, TextileGenesis also offers brands more insight into each tier of their supply chain. Gautam estimates that for 95 to 98 percent of retailers, anything beyond tier two, or their finished fabric supplier, is a “black box.” With blockchain, brands have a record of which specific facilities were involved in the production of that fabric and fiber. This unlocks opportunities to more accurately audit the social compliance and carbon footprint across the entire chain.

A significant number of brands have established environmental targets around raw materials, such as committing to using 100 percent sustainable materials by 2023 or 2025. But verifying these goals comes back to traceability. “You need to be certain of the materials in your garments to be in the position to understand whether you actually achieved the targets,” said Florian Heubrandner, vice president global business management textiles at Lenzing.

Currently, TextileGenesis is focused on sustainable fibers, but Gautam see the potential to eventually expand into footwear materials as well as trims such as low-impact sewing thread and zippers to give brands further insight into the full impact of their garments.

Visibility will be crucial as fashion aims to scale up its use of circular and recycled materials. ArmedAngels has launched a Circular Tee with 50 percent recycled cotton from its production, but the company plans to soon use post-consumer textiles for the recycled content. “I think traceability is a must, and the most important necessary prerequisite for circularity,” said Lavinia Muth, corporate responsibility at ArmedAngels. “Because without knowing which inputs have been generated in the former life of the garment or whatever product, we cannot make sure that the following end products comply with our ecological and recyclability requirements.”

Following its pilots, Lenzing sees the potential for TextileGenesis’ technology to be used more widely in the industry. The company is working to educate its partners, including brands and retailers, on the advantages of this type of traceability.

“We’re confident that…this can become really a very fundamental part of this industry and hopefully a new standard, that all of the transactions, that the whole garment traceability in this industry will just become much, much bigger,” said Heubrandner. “We understand it’s at the very very beginning, but hopefully now there will be some kind of domino effect that will make this completely normal in a few years from now.”

Watch the webinar to find out:

  • Why Lenzing chose TextileGenesis over other traceability technologies
  • Lenzing’s and ArmedAngels’ results from the pilot programs
  • The cost of TextileGenesis for material suppliers and their partners
  • How traceability can transform consumer-facing sustainability messaging
  • What this technology would mean for third-party accreditation and transaction certificates
  • What effect Covid-19 is having on companies’ and consumers’ demand for sustainable products

Click here to watch the webinar now.