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Retraced Blockchain for Fashion Offers ‘Transparency-as-a-Service’

Rana Plaza was a watershed moment for transparency—or the lack thereof—in fashion supply chains, and today’s consumers want to know that their clothing and footwear purchases are supporting ethical brands that source responsibly and treat workers well.

More so than other tools, blockchain is seen by many around the apparel industry as a serious contender to increase transparency and traceability as fashion products wend their way from farm to final consumer. In its Fashion Transparency Index 2019, Fashion Revolution urges brands to pull back the curtain on their operations because transparency “helps others discover best practice examples and positive stories from the supply chain that can be highlighted, shared and potentially replicated elsewhere.”

Retraced, based in Düsseldorf, Germany, is stepping up to offer brands a platform where their customers can access important data about sourcing, manufacturing and other differentiating supply chain information. Founders Philipp Mayer, Peter Merkert and Lukas Pünder helm the team that built Retraced on Oracle’s Hyperledger Fabric Blockchain platform in less than 12 months from start to finish.

Out of the gate, Retraced already has a select group of sustainable brands using the blockchain-based “transparency-as-a-service” solution to document their supply chains for the benefit of consumers.

AFew, also based in Düsseldorf, produces urban apparel and footwear sustainably, while Jyoti Fair Works bills itself as a German-Indian label that makes “clothes and accessories that not only make our customers happy, but also the people involved in their production—from cotton farmers and weavers to the seamstresses.” John W. Shoes works with European artisans to produce handcrafted leather shoes.

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But the first real test case on Retraced comes from brand partner Cano Clothing Company, a German brand sustainably producing huarache-inspired shoes in Mexico. Founded in 2016, Cano uses Retraced to collect relevant supply chain data and share it with people who’ve purchased its footwear.

Retraced said Cano customers will be able to use an in-development smartphone app to scan a tag on their shoes that serves insights about the leather chosen to produce the shoe as well as a getting-to-know-you glimpse into the individual artisan whose handiwork and expertise brought that shoe to life.

“Working with a fair fashion brand like Cano is key for us and is a ‘win-win’ for all parties involved, and for transparency,” Pünder said in a statement. “It allows us to further test and improve the solution’s real-world flexibility, while also helping Cano customers learn more about the ethical and sustainable production standards. Thanks to Oracle and the blockchain, we can now offer the fashion consumer a powerful verification method that they can trust.”

Retraced’s decentralized data collection model can not only further differentiate already ethical brands, but it also gives consumers another way to guide their purchasing decisions, “thus applying pressure on brands to address local sustainability challenges in fashion manufacturing,” the startup said.

By tracing 100,000 products across supply chains spanning three continents, Retraced believes its initial brand partners will demonstrate the blockchain platform’s scalability.