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Textile Firms Turn to DNA Testing to Authenticate Materials for Increased Transparency

Transparency has quickly moved from an added bonus to an essential element in successful supply chains. Now technology is taking visibility a step further with DNA authentication for textiles.

Applied DNA Sciences, Inc., a provider of DNA-based anti-counterfeiting technology and product authentication solutions, developed a noncopyable marker called SigNature T DNA that can mark a fiber at the ginning stage and make it traceable at all points along the supply chain — through spinning, weaving, cut and sew, retail and then, ultimately, to the consumer.

“Wherever it is that you place the mark, it starts as that point,” said Dr. James A. Hayward, president and CEO of Applied DNA Sciences. “You can follow it all the way through the supply chain and you can have proof that that product is what is says it is and will perform the way it says it does.”

Using plant DNA and manipulating it to represent a unique brand identity, then delivering that distinct DNA to the fiber, SigNature T then associates that DNA with whatever fiber it is marking, and the fiber can be tracked to the time it was marked, and even down the batch it belonged to. By examining the marking, the program can distinguish where and when the fiber was marked, who marked it and what type of fiber it is.

“There has long been a known and too little spoken of awareness, really since the U.S. took the position of exporting its manufacturing offshore, that the pressures in the offshore supply chain would eventually lead to the inevitable outcome of counterfeiting fabrics,” Hayward said.

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MeiLin Wan, executive director for apparel and textiles at Applied DNA Sciences, added, “Something gets lost every time it [fiber] gets moved or converted into a textile product. The potential to substitute with something that’s inferior, everyone is tempted to do that. It’s not uncommon in virtually every category.”

In some cases, Wan said, instead of using 100 percent extra long staple cotton a spinner might use 50 percent of the extra long staple and 50 percent of a lesser grade, save on cost and still sell the yarn to the weaver as 100 percent extra long staple.

The DNA marking means being sure beyond doubt that an order for Extra Long Staple Pima cotton, for example, will yield exactly that — there is no room for fiber substitutions.

“As a designer, brand or retailer, most of them are only looking at fabrics, so if they knew those fabrics didn’t actually contain 100 percent Pima cotton, they would know to look further into what’s the original yarn that’s used,” Wan said. “That would be a better indication that the fibers that are used and the labels are compliant.”

Ultimately, Applied DNA Sciences hopes brands will be able to include a QR code of some sort, possibly one that functions through the brand’s app, that consumers could scan at the retail level to track the product to its point of origin, but for now, the company uses a molecular photocopier to look for the specific DNA marking and amplify it one billion times to be sure it can’t be another mark.

From the brand perspective, Wan said using SigNature T gives retailers an opportunity to enhance the consumer experience by sharing more information about what’s happening in the supply chain in a meaningful way.

For consumers, it will mean an improved product baseline, Hayward added, as the products actually include what the labels claim they do.

“This is like the ultimate guarantee,” Wan said. “And it’s better than a guarantee because you know you can go back into the supply chain and verify that the fiber or the yarn is in fact in that final product.”