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‘Trust Lust’ Fuels Blockchain Bet at Alexander McQueen’s MCQ Brand

After years of reckoning with sustainability and ethics concerns, industry players are doubling down on their commitments to preserving the world’s ecology and protecting the health and livelihoods of workers. And as shoppers become more shrewd and discerning with each passing day, brands are eager to leverage their good deeds for loyalty.

Blockchain has been a part of the fashion lexicon for seasons now, but the technology—which creates a virtualized history of a product’s lifespan, from conception to consumer—has yet to be widely adopted. Now, industry experts believe it could be the key to giving shoppers the ability to buy with confidence.

On Friday, MCQ, a subsidiary of Alexander McQueen that showcases a collective of rotating designers, announced that every item in its forthcoming collections would be imbued with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip equipped with blockchain tech. The move will allow the brand’s shoppers to access the history of their garments—from the design stages through production and sale—with a simple tap of their smartphones.

Developed in collaboration with blockchain solutions provider Everledger, MCQ’s technology “enables the traceability of the supply chain from its origin to the hands of the consumer,” Leanne Kemp, the tech firm’s CEO, told Sourcing Journal. While the concept isn’t new, it is undoubtedly having a moment, she said, likely due to a confluence of factors.

“I think what you’re seeing is a crescendo building on the baseline of the work that was being done in previous years” with regard to scanning and tagging technologies—like RFID chips, for example—and the rollout of 5G connectivity across the globe, she said. Advancements like these are giving brands “the ability to link devices and tags in ways that have never been seen before.”

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“Individual components around provenance and traceability storytelling have all been there, but they haven’t been brought together in a connected way until now,” she added.

What’s more, the consumer’s appetite for information about the products they purchase is building, lending greater credence to tools that a few short years ago might have seemed too techy for the average shopper. “We’re on a journey of what I call ‘trust lust,’” Kemp said, referencing the growing propensity, especially among young purchasers, to exhaustively vet brands before parting with their dollars. History and heritage no longer guarantee loyalty, “even if a brand has been on the market for 120 years and has a beautiful logo that’s known by many,” she said.

Currently, MCQ’s tags have the ability to show users where a product was designed, produced and sold. Consumers can also register their purchase using the technology, and their ownership then becomes a part of the garment’s story—even if they decide, eventually, to sell it on a secondary market. Registration gives them access to a virtual wardrobe of all of their MCQ garments, which they can keep track of via their smartphones.

For a luxury brand like MCQ, ensuring authenticity is also a driving force for blockchain adoption. As resale continues to rise, fueling a circular economy where garments are cycled through many owners and closets before meeting the end of the road, it’s compelling for shoppers to see how their purchases changed hands, and ultimately, verify that they’re real.

The next generation of the technology will likely give insights into much more, Kemp said, including where materials were produced and by whom, down to the farm level. “We could have indexes of natural resources that tell us, ‘this garment used so many liters of water,’ or, ‘this garment is part of a fair trade system that enables the education of young girls in emerging countries,’” she said. “I think consumers will definitely start to ask themselves various questions about a garment’s cost to the planet and the supply chain.

“When we think about the time, space and dimension of the work MCQ started, it’s well ahead of its time,” Kemp added. “This is an example that many big brands are likely to follow.”