Education | Blockchain:  Where Tech and Fashion Meet

One of the most cutting-edge developments in fashion right now is the incorporation of blockchain technology. Blockchain is a global online database that anyone with an internet connection can use, but it doesn't belong to anyone. You may have heard of it in the past in the banking world sector, because the technology easily helps tracing transactions and it happens to be the main technical innovation of the bitcoin. The idea was to create a decentralized digital property that keeps track of who owns what. However, today, all the buzz is how this technology is being applied to the fashion industry to create more sustainable and transparent labels.  

Block What?

A blockchain is a distributed database maintaining a constantly-growing list of data records secured from tampering and revision. The defining feature of a blockchain is that it cannot be modified by any party, it is coded in a way that prevents fudging the data, whether that data is bitcoin quantities or the origin of a piece of clothing. That means information can be transmitted through huge networks, such as supply chains, and be added to by users on those networks without compromising security.

Blockchain Meets Fashion

A few months ago, blockchain made its fashion debut during Shanghai Fashion Week. Babyghost, a young Chinese-New York label, teamed up with BitSE, a company specialized in blockchain, and VeChain, an anti-counterfeiting application to showcase its Spring and Summer 2017 collection. VeChain is a cloud product management solution integrated with blockchain technology that puts unique IDs on the blockchain and can verify if an item is genuine or not. So the collection could be verified on the blockchain to fulfill a bunch of possibilities: anti-counterfeiting, supply chain management, asset management and client experiences. The result of this union is called FashTech, where a clothing collection can be verified on the blockchain through Near field communication or by scanning the QR code on the label. A person’s phone communicates with the small VeChain chip embedded inside the clothing which then tells its “story” to the consumer. VeChain can be programmed with photographs, videos and even personalized information such as to whom it was purchased for and why.

Blockchain in use at Shanghai Fashion Week

Blockchain is based on a simple idea, but built upon a complex technological framework. Its goal is to establish trust, accountability and transparency while streamlining business processes. Blockchain relates to fashion in a few different ways.

Intellectual Property

The most immediate and obvious use of blockchain in fashion is to verify the originality of a garment. Microchips utilizing blockchain can tell a customer with complete certainty whether a piece of cloths is genuine or an imitation, whether it was stolen, where it was made, and the item’s general history. All this information is accessible via smartphone. With revenues around $600 billion per year, counterfeiting hurts brands and consumers alike.

Supply Chain and Transparency

Blockchain could conceivably tell a customer not only where an item was made, but who it was made by, the conditions they worked in, and how much they were paid. Shoppers could have immediate access to information such as composition of an item’s fabric, where the cotton was grown, which polyester compounds are used, what chemicals have been used for bleaching and so on. Blockchain technology has the ability to garner greater trust and brand loyalty throughout the product lifecycle.

Example of a manufacturing and distribution process utilizing Blockchain and RFID

Especially in the fashion community, supply transparency has been a major concern. Blockchains can bring transparency to supply chains and on the governmental level, let them request information from even distant suppliers. History has shown that centralizing data into the hands of one single party doesn’t work for transparency: having a single party able to control what is seen creates bias, even when it is a third party, and cannot be totally disinterested whilst being incentivized enough to maintain the system, without being vulnerable to bribery, social engineering or targeted hacking. Even without mentioning if the party is the brand itself, or the biggest actor in the supply chain, making a major conflict of interest. Blockchains will entirely change the game for certifying, tracking and tracing the origin of goods.

Provenance is a UK-based startup already building traceability system for the fashion industry, such as Martine Jarlgaard, based on blockchain technology

Customer Experience

It’s the dawn of a new era in fashion, in which customers interact with their clothes on a profound and meaningful way. Blockchain therefore is storytelling and brands can do that actually fairly easily and merge it with Social Media.

By looking beyond sustainability to production, and getting consumers to understand the layers of complexity involved in bringing a product to market, the blockchain can help move the mentality away from throwing products into landfill and instead appreciating the value of items. Over a third of garments purchased find their way into landfill sites or are otherwise disposed of within just one year.

The Internet is the digital medium of information, and blockchain is the digital medium of value. We cannot predict the future, but undoubtedly, blockchain is a technology that is worth getting to know, as it may very well spark a revolution across various industries. It is estimated that until 2025 up to 70% of all global markets will depend on blockchain, directly or indirectly. A huge potential will be the so called “Smart Contracts”, these are automatically executed agreements, with no human intervention. As one of the unfolding technologies, blockchain is empowering fashion brands to take a lead towards greater transparency. By educating consumers via the product journey, it is going to redefine the meaning of fashion by including elements like honesty and real transparency.

by, Susanna Koalblin

August 18, 2017 by Jaclyn Dowdle