Last year, Supima, Albini Group and Oritain entered into a partnership with Kering to provide organic cotton for the luxury group’s brands. The collaboration made headlines because, thanks to Oritain’s technologies, the fabric is 100 percent forensically traceable.
While companies have long used scientific traceability to ensure they’re working with sustainably, ethically sourced materials, the Kering partnership has brought it back to the forefront of the apparel sourcing conversation.
The collaboration links traceability to the world’s most well-known luxury brands—like Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent—giving consumers a reason to take notice. According to Marc A. Lewkowitz, president & CEO at Supima, integrating traceability into luxury fashion is, to some degree, inevitable.
“For brands, the hard work has already been done to build the brand’s message and position,” Lewkowitz said. “Now, authentication and verification is a way to re-enforce that message.” Lewkowitz used the world of champagne as an example: champagne houses go to great lengths to protect not only their reputation, but also the region the product comes from, and the veracity of the products it exports.
The product’s origin, Lewkowitz said, is the key to its authenticity, and the same is true in luxury fashion. “When a consumer picks a product from a storied brand group like Kering, it means something to them,” he said. “Each product showcases the authentic characteristics of the materials used in the garment, and the craftmanship that went into creating it.”
Rupert Hodges, executive director at Oritain, explained that while the quality and origins of materials have always been what make luxury products stand out, now there are scientific methods to verify sourcing, which is meaningful to consumers.
“Consumers are suddenly awake to the indirect implications their purchasing decisions can have on people’s lives,” Hodges said. “Recent social media calls for boycotts of luxury brands show the consumers’ willingness to disassociate themselves from brands, regardless of luxury signifiers.”
Since supply chain traceability is becoming a driving force in the fashion world (the issue was at the top of the 2019 Global Fashion Agenda), it makes sense for luxury brands to lead the way.
“Luxury fashion’s higher price points and lower volumes lend themselves to more responsible sourcing,” said Hodges. Even consumers who aren’t actively seeking out sustainable brands will react to brands’ moves toward ethical sourcing. “’Non-unethical’ consumers are those who don’t actively look for ethical brands, but who wouldn’t buy from brands that they believe to be unethical,” Hodges explained. “Ensuring your brand is doing the utmost to ensure responsible practice is essential in either case.”
Both Oritain and Supima have unique tools Kering can leverage to optimize the impact of the traceability initiative on its revenues. “Supima has been working on an origin verification solution for well over a decade, and finding one that utilizes what is already naturally present in the fiber makes it the perfect tool to definitively trace the fiber itself back to where it was grown,” said Lewkowitz.
The company’s partnership with Oritian just made sense. “The Oritain platform presented the first forensically identifiable solution that didn’t require the introduction of foreign materials, and produced results that verified origin at a confidence level previously never reached,” Lewkowitz explained. Combined, the companies’ technologies create a traceability solution that is simple to integrate and that provides rapid results for luxury partners.
Traceability efforts also benefit the retailers who partner with luxury brands, Hodges said. “Protecting brand reputation and financial investment from substitution with inferior product provides additional reassurances that can be passed onto both the consumer and brand partners,” Hodges said. By deterring instances of fraud and showcasing a deep knowledge of the supply chain, luxury manufacturers are giving retail partners even more reasons to seek out partnerships. “Demonstrable measures show the company’s commitment to improving the current system, helping to increase brand affinity and customer loyalty,” Hodges added.
Established luxury brands won’t fall out of favor as newer companies disrupt the marketplace, said Lewkowitz, but to keep their footing in the market, they’ll need to continue to use technology to back up their brand messaging.
“The general want and need from the consumer hasn’t drastically changed,” Lewkowitz said. “How they come to the purchase decision and the way that they purchase products has.” Brands will need more than just their word to retain consumer trust. That means partnerships like Kering’s traceability initiative will have to become commonplace—and the sooner brands jump on board, the more they’ll stand out from the pack in the eyes of an ever-growing ethical consumer base.