Organic cotton can now be accurately tracked from farm to consumer after a “pioneering” pilot successfully combined on-product markers and blockchain technology to verify materials at every stage of the supply chain.
The yearlong project—a first for the apparel industry—brought together a number of stakeholders, including Fashion for Good, C&A Foundation and the Organic Cotton Accelerator. C&A, Kering, PVH Corp. and Zalando provided additional directional and financial support. European retailer C&A, in particular, lent its supply chain, including access to its Indian supplier Pratibha Syntex, to facilitate cross-country in-field trials.
Bext360, which served as the project’s leading technical partner, applied the DNA, invisible fluorescent and microbiome technologies of Haelixa, Tailorlux, In-Code Technologies and Corebiome to tag and later verify fiber transactions using machine vision and artificial intelligence.
Current traceability systems, Fashion for Good says, rely largely on paper-based trails of certifications to manage the chain of custody. This new process creates a digital and physical trail that not only increases reliability but also “comes closest” to full traceability of the origin, purity and distribution of cotton “within the current landscape.” Blockchain, too, proved an effective ledger system because it creates an immutable record that cannot be edited or falsified.
The process doesn’t benefit the value chain alone, either. At the consumer level, the same markers can be used to communicate which suppliers and manufacturers were involved in the creation of the final product.
Traceability in the fashion industry is in high demand for good reason: it ensures sustainability claims are accurate and that sustainable producers are rewarded for their efforts. Earlier this year, Lenzing and TextileGenesis detailed findings from a blockchain pilot that traced Tencel fibers from source to store.
“The success of the organic cotton traceability pilot provides a positive impulse towards traceability and transparency in the value chain,” Katrin Ley, managing director of Fashion for Good, said in a statement. “We’ve gathered sufficient insights and evidence to support the case, in terms of technical as well as operational viability, for the wider implementation of the process in the organic cotton industry.”
The process, she added, shows “enormous potential” for expansion into other fibers in the fashion supply chain.