Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Estelle Huynh, chief business operations officer at traceability solutions provider Mojix, weighs in on the need for better product-level transparency and the lessons for fashion in food supply chains.
Name: Estelle Huynh
Title: Chief business operations officer
Company: Mojix, Inc.
Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?
Apparel is mature and structured in its approach to the supply chain. Not surprising, when one thinks that two centuries ago, Britain was producing half of the world’s cotton cloth without a single cotton plant in the country! Supply chain and global trade go hand in hand.
Yet, apparel can learn from the food industry about traceability within a global supply chain. Sourcing and manufacturing transparency is an untapped lever for brand image and consumer preference. Apparel can also learn from luxury brands the value of reliable authentication, and the best methods to achieve it. Last, there is much to learn from the packaging industry and returnable assets tracking to reach sustainability targets and improve the bottom line.
How would you describe yourself as a consumer?
Where possible, I look for brands with a positive ecological impact, but mostly those that use cutting-edge technology to do so. I don’t see the point—nor do I see the efficiency—in trying to go back to our hunter-gatherer ways to fight global warming or waning natural resources. We’ve gone so far with science, I’m confident we can now repair, through science, what we’ve come to destroy.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
Talent or creativity may lure me in, but honesty keeps me coming back. Honesty, for a brand, translates into a healthy level of transparency. Social media whistleblowers are currently cracking down on startups pretending to be something they’re not and delivering products that are not what they claim. Wouldn’t it be simpler to track-and-trace, inform and certify via technological means?
What’s your typical work (or weekend) uniform?
I’m just back from maternity leave, so I wear anything that I missed wearing during the past nine months!
Which fashion era is your favorite?
It’s in the future. We don’t know it yet.
Who’s your style icon?
Not very original of me, but I have to say Coco Chanel. I think it’s because of her creative and business success in a male-dominated society, what she did to free women’s bodies and bare their skin while preserving their understated elegance, and her mastery of “less is more.”
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
Following our pivot to a full SaaS business three years ago, we decided to expand the scope of our services and create a multi-enterprise technical architecture for traceability, leveraging our cloud platform.
We’re enabling any company to create an ecosystem of providers and partners, who can register and chain all their supply chain data to enable a global end-to-end traceability system. Brands—both in fashion apparel and food industries—have accelerated their digitization toward more automation and increased visibility. But their suppliers and manufacturers at the beginning of the chain cannot always implement such a transformation. We are, via this multi-enterprise vision, democratizing tools for transparency and data sharing, and preparing a future of consumer safety and awareness.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
It’s at once fundamentally caring and very ambitious. These two characteristics often seem impossible to reconcile, so I’m proud to say it defines our remote company. We’re at a human scale—we know and care for each other, and talents are valued and promoted. Plus, we have a lot of fun together at work, and with our clients!
What can companies learn from Covid-19?
That black swan events do happen and have a way of accelerating time and fostering innovation. Companies have had to engage transformation and digitization programs much earlier than they thought. It’s not like no one knew that online sales would keep growing and multichannel was important before Covid, but they thought they still had a few years ahead of them to pilot and deploy.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
I would say to prepare for the “consumer with a conscience”—the one that needs information on provenance and manufacturing, not in general terms, but item by item. Because we don’t only buy a brand that we love, we buy items that we love. Brands can embellish, but items don’t lie. They were created somewhere, with raw materials that we know, and a carbon footprint that we can appreciate. Lasering in at item level doesn’t only hold a promise for operational processes, but for the brand. And people will pay the premium for information that they hold dear.
What keeps you up at night?
Currently it’s my baby son!
What makes you most optimistic?
Visionary talents and powerful women. I recently read books by two authors that have given me so much energy: Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (“We Should All Be Feminists,” “Americanah”) and French journalist Léa Salamé (“Femmes puissantes”). Léa Salamé interviews some of the most prominent women of our time and begins with the question, “What do you think makes you a powerful woman?” Not one of these awe-inspiring women admits to being powerful! I find their modesty both beautiful and outdated. Things are changing, I know it!
Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:
Based on the technology we had developed for the retail industry, Ytem, we launched Ytem for Food, enabling traceability at item level for the food industry, and presented at NRF Retail Converge. The stakes are high, because we’re enabling food safety via item lifecycle and expiration date management. It’s a groundbreaking proposition because raw produce is difficult to tag, both for economic and practical reasons. We feel that if we can track-and-trace food items to comply with FDA regulations, we can track just about anything, making the data collected relevant, actionable and business-friendly.