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Applied DNA Taps Technology to Change the Way Companies Source Cotton

Applied DNA wants to make sure the materials people use in their homes–like towels and sheets–are truly made from the materials they claim.

The company, a provider of molecular technologies that enable supply chain security, anti-counterfeiting and anti-theft technology, product genotyping and DNA mass production for diagnostics and therapeutics, based in Stony Brook, New York, has made strides in several fields, but it’s in textiles where the greatest impact has been felt. Notably in home goods.

“The business as a whole at Applied DNA is gaining traction and acceptance in multiple markets,” James Hayward, president and chief executive officer of Applied DNA, said. “The area of textiles in general is our most rapidly growing market. It’s a diversified market, with everything from leather to natural fibers to synthetic fibers.”

Hayward said Applied DNA always measure its growth rate versus the number of projects it currently has under way that have not yet commercialized, although typically when it takes on a project, it is commercialized. Right now, the company is at its highest amount ever, with 16 individual projects in the works.

From farm to shelf

“In textiles, our work in leather has shown our molecular tags can be remarkably adaptable in the harshest of environments and under the most challenging of supply chains, so that’s also rewarding,” Hayward said. “But far and away, cotton is where the uptake has been the fastest, where our partners have been the bravest and most willing to go to the cutting edge, and where the growth rate has been the fastest, both with the uptake in the commercial ecosystem and by specific big box retailers and now brands.”

At September’s New York Home Fashions Week, Applied DNA’s cotton platform was displayed by Himatsingka, which promoted its Pimacott and HomeGrown Cotton lines, where the executives were interviewed about the state of the business.

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They noted that the home textiles market is seeing a dramatic change in best practices.

[Read more about transparency: Transparency Has Become Fashion’s Hot Trend]

“The notion of supply chain transparency has become top of mind for everyone in the supply chain that touches cotton, from the farm to the shelf,” said MeiLin Wan, vice president of textile sales at Applied DNA. “Everyone is thinking, ‘what’s in my cotton product and how do I prove it?’ What has happened through our partnerships has been a milestone in the industry and a shift in the mindset of brands and retailers in how they think about verification.”

Bringing in the brands

In May, Applied DNA’s SigNature T molecular tag, which offers an added level of traceability, transparency and trust, made its retail debut in Bed Bath & Beyond‘s Wamsutta line, featuring PimaCott. More than 1,000 SKUs of source-verified Pima cotton sheets are available at more than 1,000 locations nationwide and online.

Applied DNA Taps Technology Change the Way Companies Source Cotton
Photo credit: Arthur Friedman

New products using HomeGrown Cotton traceable to three different varieties will be available on retail shelves by 2017-2018.

Simon Fennell, marketing director for Himatsingka America, said, “We are the only certified pima cotton in the marketplace. We co-brand Wamsutta and PimaCott. It has become a married couple.”

Further down the cotton supply chain, Applied DNA’s ginning partner, The Woolam Gin in O’Donnell, Texas, was awarded the Global Organic Textile Standard certification, making it the first certified U.S. organic cotton gin utilizing Applied DNA’s molecular tagging system, which provides a single platform to tag, test and track the organic cotton fibers throughout a certified supply chain.

“The tagging of organic cotton evidences Applied DNA’s growing entrenchment in the U.S. cotton industry,” Hayward said at the time. “The deployment of our tagging system, starting first with pima cotton and continuing on to the upland varietals and organic cotton reflects the importance industry participants today place on the use of technology to change the way that they source cotton and take control of their supply chain. Participating in the supply chain of certified organic cotton now sets the precedent for our participation in other certified organic supply chains, providing the assurance that both the manufacturers and consumers demand.”

Home goods maker Loftex recently signed a multi-year exclusive license with Applied DNA for its beach and bath towels. Loftex will use CertainT, an integrated supply chain security platform verifying authenticity from source to retail, to assure towels containing recycled plastic water bottles are, in fact, recycled.

In a similar deal, GHCL will use Applied DNA’s CertainT platform in its supply chain to tag, test and track fibers from recycled plastic water bottles in home textile products, such as bed sheets, pillowcases and shams.

“Retailers, brands and consumers want to know where their products come from and where they are going,” Charles Gaenslen, CEO of Loftex Home, said when the deal was signed. “Sustainability product claims are central to our recycled PET programs and CertainT verifies our claims throughout the supply chain. The response from retailers based on our initial launch of our Fusion Fibers with CertainT collection announced in March exceeded our expectations, which is why we are expanding our use of recycled PET verified by the CertainT platform.”

CertainT provides a single platform to tag, test, track and trace products throughout a certified supply chain. Applied DNA’s molecular tag is extruded into the recycled components that create recycled PET fiber with no impact to performance or quality of the blended staple or filament PET yarns. Thereafter, any piece of the CertainT-tagged towels may be authenticated by detecting the molecular tag present in the recycled PET fiber, thus ensuring the recycled nature and origin of the fiber.

The real deal

“We know that that the world of authentication, tag, test and track is evolving. It is definitely a new frontier with many technologies bursting on the scene — some tried and true, and others less so. We are heartened by the new players in this field, which means in the end consumers, brands and retailer will benefit from the advent of this kind of technology,” Wan said. “However, as we enter our fourth year, having tagged, tested and tracked more than 160 million pounds of cotton, we have gone to great lengths to engineer and test solutions that have garnered the best results.”’

She said while there are “chemical fingerprints or generic tracers” or even rare earth materials that have been previously investigated in textiles, they often do not survive many of the processing steps that include bleaches, sizing, dying and finishes.

“We also know that RFID, holograms and barcodes can be easily copied and do not offer any real improvement to the unique identification of the fiber itself,” Wan added. “And that is the point–if you want to be certain your fiber is used in a finished product, you can with SigNature T molecular tagging, forensic testing, quality assurance services and traceability reporting, taking products are processed from raw fibers or materials to finished goods. This is a bullet proof solution that provides absolute truth in labeling.”