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H&M Just Set an Ambitious Product Traceability Goal

H&M Group plans to track the provenance of more than 200 million garments, from fiber to finished product, by the end of the year.

The Swedish retailer announced Friday that it is expanding its partnership with TextileGenesis, a blockchain-based platform that traces fibers, yarns, fabrics and clothing throughout the supply chain. Since winning H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award in 2020, the India-based firm’s technology has underpinned several scaled pilots. Now, H&M will be attaching its digital tokens, known as Fibercoins, to all man-made cellulosics and recycled polyester materials on a phased-in basis throughout 2022.

“H&M Group believes that supply chain traceability and transparency should go hand-in-hand to create greater accountability for where materials and products come from, and to drive positive change in the fashion industry,” Merel Krebbers, product owner, fiber to product traceability at H&M Group, said in a statement.

H&M Group, which operates & Other Stories, Cos, Monki and Weekday, along with its eponymous flagship, considers traceability a “matter of great importance,” Krebbers said. Over the past few years, the fast-fashion giant has initiated several traceability pilots and programs to identify and test different solutions. It has also been an industry leader in transparency, launching in 2019 a system of information “layers” that attaches factory names, addresses and employment data to every product it sells online.

“We believe that it is important to have the right tools and systems that work for the industry at large,” Krebbers said. “Moreover, we believe that we can have greater impact by working together within and across industries to come up with shared solutions; combining technologies and shared-industry databases can help increase supply chain traceability.”

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H&M x TextileGenesis

The TextileGenesis collaboration, H&M Group said, is a “key initiative” on its “traceability journey,” as well as that of the retail industry at large. In its scaled pilots in 2021, the world’s second-largest apparel purveyor by revenue after Inditex traced more than 1.5 million garments.

The current rollout will allow it to track up to 20 percent of its material base by volume through to final product—or the equivalent of 200 million garments—by the close of 2022. H&M Group aims to do the same with other materials next year with the active support of hundreds of suppliers across several countries that TextileGenesis has helped onboard and train.

“H&M Group is at the cutting-edge of traceability in the fashion industry and has continuously challenged us to deliver traceability at scale,” said Amit Gautam, founder and CEO of TextileGenesis. “Our joint ambition to track several hundred million units from fiber-to-retail marks a major milestone. It moves the entire industry forward in realizing scalable supply chain traceability.”

H&M Group isn’t the only company to tap into TextileGenesis’s expertise.

Last month, Bestseller revealed that it will be leveraging the Fibercoin scheme to trace 25 million garments, representing 7 percent of the Danish retailer’s total volume, that contain man-made cellulosic fibers and direct-to-farm cotton.

“Through our collaboration with TextileGenesis, we can ensure transparency and validation for a significant part of our fibers and products,” Danique Lodewijks, senior project specialist at Bestseller Sustainability, said in a statement. “It feeds directly into our Fashion FWD strategy and will not only affect Bestseller but can lead the entire fashion industry in a more transparent and sustainable direction.

Like H&M, Bestseller said the move will require “significant input” from its suppliers, who will be the ones adopting the TextileGenesis platform. The retailer said it hopes that this will become an industry-wide tool, allowing suppliers to deliver product-level transparency that complies with expected European Union legislation.

“We will gather feedback from the suppliers and with their input our objective is to create a system that is both workable and scalable for the entire supply chain. If this solution works the way it is intended, it would be a profound step forward in supply chain transparency,” said materials manager Pernille Bruun. “Through this platform we can trace every step in the production process, giving us access to information we have not had previously, and enabling us to deliver stronger transparency to our company and customers.”

Bestseller is also part of a Better Cotton initiative to deliver greater visibility to the cotton supply chain.

“Many fashion retailers simply don’t know where the cotton in their clothes comes from,” Alan McClay, CEO of Better Cotton, said last month. “The reasons for not knowing are numerous, and in many cases, legitimate. This traceability panel is a major step toward addressing the reasons behind this inability to trackback to the source.”