Sustainability term in the apparel supply chain was a murky world as consumers and industry reformers had to depend upon the brand face value or blanket terms like ‘organic,’ ‘recycled’ and ‘eco’ to gain knowledge about a product is made sustainably or not.
Along with 3rd-party auditors and certification programs—like the Global Organic Textile Standard, bluesign® and Cradle to Cradle—have been summoned to aid in authenticating sustainable claims in the supply chain, but as said above, the major part of the apparel supply chain remained in dark, imposing consumers to accept information at face value.
With COVID-19 at large, which already exposed the longstanding hegemony of retailers and brands transparency in the supply chain is gaining momentum.
In the age of social media, recent analytics show that apparel consumers are more concerned and pushing for sustainably made apparel. Which begins with traceable fibers to final product.
The term ‘traceability’ signifies the accountability and transparency of origin and quality, along with the environmental and social impact of fibers.
In a diverse and complex global supply chain – the practicality, quality and cotton-growing practices around the world differ greatly. Which is why, cotton purchasers deserve to know their cotton origin and how it was grown – in terms of environmental practices as well as labor standards.
And this traceability in the apparel supply chain will provide transparency for mills, brands, retailers and consumers.
“For many years, the different stakeholders throughout the entire fiber value chain have not fully understood each partner, and we work every day to provide that education, awareness and understanding to everyone,” said Jennifer Crumpler, e3 Cotton Manager and Fiber Development Manager at BASF.
How traceability in fibers work
In 2017, when Refibra fiber was launched, the first cellulose fiber-containing recycled material on a commercial scale.
The fiber also presented a new identification system that makes it possible to identify the Refibra fiber in the finished textile. To make Refibra, blended wood pulp and upcycled cotton pulp, which is then dissolved with a solvent. A fiber identification is added to the fiber in this solvent stage.
This identification information can be verified at four global testing labs for fabric certification.
Although the circularity of upcycled cotton is the most vital factor for Refibra, fiber identification assures brands of the recycled content. Numerous brands have made public commitments to recycling or minimizing their impacts, and the fiber identification in Refibra validates these claims.
Call for traceable fibers is mainly driven by 100% sustainable fibers pledges made by the world’s topmost 100 fashion brands, said Amit Gautam, CEO of TextileGenesis, the manufacturer of Fibercoins traceable technology.
“It’s not possible to tell a credible sustainability story without underpinning it with transparency and traceability,” Gautam said.
TextileGenesis digitalizes fiber bulk at the source point and regulating the sum of authentic sustainable fibers entering the supply chain network.
It generates a comprehensive digital chain of custody across all supply chain tiers from fiber through to retail, saving the entire network time and the cost sustained from using paper or PDF transaction certificates, Gautam explained.
Additionally, traceable technology company FibreTrace has ensured every member in the supply network has the ability and opportunity to participate in the technology from raw fiber to the spinner, weaver, dyer, manufacturer, brand and customer through to reuse and recycling.
The company’s data delivers real-time verifiable insight, which FibreTrace director Danielle Statham said allows for a single, reliable view of the truth.
“We can display scientific data surrounding raw fibers and create a unique passport of the item to be read and tracked at every stage of the supply chain from farm to shelf and beyond,” Statham said.
The FibreTrace system uses patented nanotechnology particles embedded in cellulose fiber. These fibers can be mixed into any natural or man-made fiber at the very start of the production process with no impact on texture or performance. The fabric can be dyed, washed, bleached and lasered with no damage to the tracing particles. They will still be instantly readable using handheld scanners at any stage in the supply chain, so users can verify the entire supply chain in real-time.
Each audit is recorded on the blockchain, ensuring the information is secure, accessible and irrefutable. The data, Statham described, creates an actionable AI-powered supply chain offering valuable business insights. “We hope to create access to one of the world’s largest databases of sustainable product manufacturing,” she added.
As clothing companies begin to rebuild their businesses, the savviest will take an honest look at the policies they have in place and how they can better themselves for the sake of their employees, consumers and environment.