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Why Scaling Traceability Should Be Fashion’s Next Sustainability Goal

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Fashion brands have dipped their toes into fiber-level traceability, but this moment calls for them to dive in.

Typically, apparel initiatives to institute this level of visibility into the origin of raw materials have been limited to capsule collections or portions of a brand’s collections. However, new pressures are turning traceability from a bonus to a business necessity. Sourcing Journal founder and president Edward Hertzman recently sat down with Mark Burstein, president and chief strategy officer of NGC Software, and speaker at the upcoming Sourcing Summit 2020 on Oct. 14-15, to discuss why traceability matters now more than ever.

In an effort to confront human rights abuses of ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, Congress has introduced legislation that would ban products from the region, including cotton. All goods coming from Xinjiang would be presumed to be produced under forced labor, and exceptions would only be made if Customs and Border Patrol could find proof to the contrary.

According to Burstein, if passed, this bill could potentially mean that brands would be considered “guilty until proven innocent,” and they would need to provide documentation that no inputs within their products came from Xinjiang before goods could move into the U.S. If they can’t do this, companies could be risking having products destroyed or sent back to port of origin.

Unlocking this level of verification will require a greater level of traceability than fashion is accustomed to. Burstein sees blockchain as a viable solution to more closely follow the path of a raw material to retail. To make it a reality, NGC will launch its own traceability blockchain solution next month.

Outside of the potential legal issues arising for apparel companies, traceability will be key in meeting consumer demands. The swelling interest surrounding sustainability has been a boon for brands that have environmental and social responsibility programs in place, but as more labels jump on the bandwagon, consumers have grown increasingly suspicious of claims.

“’Sustainable’ has become a marketing term, and many fashion brands are using it haphazardly and irresponsibly,” said Burstein. “It’s reached the apex of the hype cycle and consumers are becoming skeptical and cynical of its promotion without verification.”

Considering the growing number of consumers who consider the impact of their purchases before buying, being able to offer proof could mean the difference between a brand remaining relevant or fading away.

To learn more about NGC, click here. And hear more from Burstein at the Sourcing Journal Summit 2020, R/Evolution: Overhauling Fashion’s Outmoded Supply Chain on Oct. 14-15.

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