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How Companies Are Using New Technologies to Combat Supply Chain Challenges

Fiber authenticity, communication and accountability are all concerns among retailers, but new technologies are providing solutions for these supply chain challenges.

At the Sourcing Journal Summit 2016 in New York City Tuesday, four industry insiders discussed their supply chains and how technology helps their companies navigate today’s tough apparel market.

Following recent concerns about fiber authenticity after Welspun India mislabeled products as made from Egyptian cotton when in fact they weren’t, there’s been an uptick in companies looking to utilize DNA tagging to trace cotton throughout every step of their supply chains.

According to Applied DNA Sciences president and chief executive Dr. James Hayward, the forensic evidence that actually travels with fibers is not present in documented analyses of supply chains. Applied DNA Sciences is addressing this issue with its own DNA tagging solution that lets it track the DNA in fiber, even find the DNA subspecies, and identify exactly where in the world the cotton came from.

Apart from just increasing transparency, companies now have to take care that their cotton isn’t coming from unethical sources. An estimated 65 percent of total exported global cotton is conflict cotton, which means it is somehow connected to human trafficking. By marking cotton for complete authentication, companies can identify the cotton and ensure that what’s used in final products is what the company expects it to be and that it does not derive from illegal sources.

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Sourcing ethical material isn’t the only supply chain issue. Communication throughout the supply chain is also a problem among retailers. Digital innovations, like product lifecycle management (PLM) software, are potential solutions for poor communication between staff or production processes.

“The best way to get more out of your employees is to empower them with the tools that would help them improve their efficiency,” General Sportswear Co. president Jeffrey Rosenstock said. “One of the best ways to increase one’s response efficiency is to implement software that allows for real-time transparent information.”

General Sportswear started using Gerber’s YuniquePLM software this year to ease day-to-day operations and employee communications. The software reduces mass emails and reports, consolidating them into an easily readable and organized database. So far, Rosenstock said the technology has boosted transparency by fostering instant digital conversation about the company’s supply chain.

“Every entry, comment and question is now recorded by user, date and time,” Rosenstock noted. “This transparency encourages everyone using the software to respond faster to one another and it records the DNA, the entire life of the garment from development all the way through production.”

Accountability is also a pressing problem for retailers and their supply chains. Without efficient methods to communicate, supply chain accountability falls through the cracks. Advanced solutions, including DNA tagging and PLM software provide retailers with an armor as the market becomes more digital and increasingly unknown.

Destination XL SVP & chief marketing officer Angela Chan discussed how new technologies assist with supply chain issues, while holding all supply chain workers accountable toward the highest compliance and sustainability standards.

“One thing with any supply chain area is really about breaking down the silos and getting people to take ownership, holding them responsible for their development responsibility and empowering them to drive to decisions and solutions,” Chan said. “Once we implement a solution, we are able to have visibility all the way through to shipping.”

Retailers can’t accomplish supply chain efficiency, transparency and sustainability alone though. By cooperating with suppliers, employees and workers, companies have the opportunity to advance their supply chains with the latest technology and stay strong in the face of a changing sector.

“It’s really the more that we can collaborate together, the more that we can talk together, the more that we can share together, it’s just going to make the whole process faster,” Rosenstock said. “It’s to no one’s advantage to keep their suppliers in the dark.”