Aslaug Magnúsdóttir, the co-founder and former CEO of e-tailer Moda Operandi, launched Katla early last year with a vision of being as “holistically sustainable as possible.”
Like many fashion brands, a significant component of Katla’s sustainability efforts centers around sourcing high-quality, eco-friendly fabrics. It further reduces environmental impact, and inventory risk, by manufacturing its merchandise on-demand or in small batches. And just last month, it partnered with SXD’s Shelly Xu to release a hoodie marrying Katla’s zero-waste manufacturing practices and SXD’s zero-waste design process.
For Katla, another “big part” of being sustainable is transparency, Magnúsdóttir said. Since “day one,” every individual item the brand has sold has had a unique tracking number that the customer can enter online to learn who made the product and where the fabric came from. In some cases, a large, visible QR code patch is directly integrated into the product’s design.
Earlier this month, Katla revealed it was taking this transparency a step further with the help of the photo and video verification platform Truepic. For now, the firm’s third-party verification reports are only available for products made with organic cotton—the bulk of the brand’s best-selling styles, Magnúsdóttir said. The plan, however, is to eventually roll out the tool across Katla’s entire selection.
“We always envisioned that over time we’d partner with people that could provide even more security when it comes to kind of showing this transparency into our supply chain,” Magnúsdóttir said. “We’re still small and [we have a] small supply chain, but as we grow and the supply chain becomes more complex, it becomes more important to have kind of this independent verification of our supply chain.”
How it works
Framed as an alternative to inconvenient and infrequent in-person audits, Truepic’s Vision platform allows clients to remotely and securely audit, inspect and track operations and products using authenticated images and video. All the supplier needs is a smartphone with a working camera. When the brand or organization so chooses, it uses Truepic’s platform to message its partner a secure link. When clicked on, this link will open up the camera so that the supplier can photograph whatever the brand or organization desires.
“The minute they take the picture, Katla is going to receive that picture with over 22 different computer-vision and fraud-detection checks on that image,” Mounir Ibrahim, vice president of public affairs and impact at Truepic, said. “This gives them full faith that what they are seeing and receiving from their suppliers across the chain is in fact representative of what they believe is happening.”
For now, Magnúsdóttir said, Katla is receiving photographs on a monthly basis. When the company moves beyond the current test period, she noted, that rate will likely increase, but the requests will tie in more to when certain actions are taking place, such as when the fabric Katla ordered is being dyed or when its hoodies are being manufactured.
“If we were to visit the factory once or twice a year, or the fabric mill once or twice a year, that would be a very limited viewpoint into their operations,” Magnúsdóttir said. “But here we’re asking them to photograph specific things at a very regular interval to make sure that…practices are [consistently] being upheld.”
According to Ibrahim, Truepic’s Vision platform also offers several other logistical benefits. By cutting down on in-person checks, he claimed, brands can cut down not just on time and money, but also environmental impact. In Katla’s case, Truepic estimated the company will save 5,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted in the next year.
So far, Katla’s suppliers have been “extremely open” to participating in the verification process, Magnúsdóttir said. “When you explain the reason, they’re proud to be a part of it,” she added. The brand’s cotton supplier in Turkey, for example, built its business on being sustainable from the beginning, so Trupic offers another opportunity to show the producer’s positive practices, Magnúsdóttir said.
“As a brand, we really want to highlight the fabric suppliers and the manufacturers that are doing positive things for the world,” she said. “This gives them a further opportunity to shine within their world. So, I think they see this as very much a positive.”
An ‘initial filter’
Founded in 2015, Truepic’s list of clients ranges from organizations like the United Nations Capital Development Fund and the Antiquities Coalition to companies like Equifax. Though Katla represents its first partner in the fashion space, Ibrahim said Truepic is currently speaking with other apparel brands.
“We consider [Katla] a social impact partner, actually, because we’re piloting this out because we think that this can have a significant impact and, really, blueprint a new and innovative use case into logistics, supply chain and the fashion industry,” Ibrahim said.
For now, Truepic’s Vision platform is a standalone database that plugs into Katla’s existing systems. In a few months, however, Ibrahim said the company will be producing a software development kit (SDK) that takes all that functionality and puts it directly into an existing app, thereby allowing larger apparel companies to integrate Truepic’s technology directly into their own applications.
Ibrahim acknowledges the limits to Truepic’s singular focus on photo and video verification. A time- and geo-stamped photo, for example, won’t be able to verify whether or not a worker is a victim of forced labor. “There obviously needs to be added diligence in that regard,” Ibrahim said. Instead, he positioned the technology as “an initial filter to try and separate bad actors and those who are… willing to be transparent and willing to actually act in good faith.”
“I think as more and more fashion companies start implementing this type of technology, there will be more and more information available to consumers,” Magnúsdóttir added. “I would hope that we get to a point where the fact that someone is not willing to open up and be transparent is a clear indicator that there are issues and that they should be avoided.”