Blockchain | How tech can provide transparency to fashion supply chains

Block what?

in brief

With the rise of fast fashion, and its continual pressure on retailers to lower prices, the high street clothing supply chain has become more and more complex and opaque.

But in 2016, how can anyone say he doesn’t know his 5€ t-shirt was made in both social and environmentally bad conditions? Consumers may not all demand transparency, at least not yet, but a quick look to the global success of Fashion Revolution Day, trending on Twitter and making millions of people more aware of fashion transparency, will make you change your mind.

So what if technology could make it easier for us to trace where and how our garments are made? Here comes Provenance, a startup using blockchain to tell the story behind the products you consume.

Block what?

A blockchain is a distributed database maintaining a constantly-growing list of data records secured from tampering and revision. The data are recorded in a blocks structure, with each block holding batches of individual transactions. Meaning the database is secure, open, auditable and that it runs without a single centralized operator.

Conceived in 2008, it is mostly used in the banking sector for the moment, because the technology easily helps tracing transactions and it happens to be the main technical innovation of the bitcoin (where it serves as the public ledger for bitcoin transactions).

What’s really interesting with this technology is that it has been the inspiration for other applications, such as giving more transparency to supply chains (in fashion and all other goods sectors).

Know your garment beyond its label

Provenance is a UK-based startup building a traceability system for materials and products in the form of a data platform. It enables brands to be more transparent, thanks to the blockchain technology.

“It is a data system for securely storing information – inherently auditable, unchangeable and open. We are working towards an open traceability protocol – that anyone can use to track the provenance of anything from coffee beans to a roll of fabric.” we can read on their website.

Building a more responsible future

What’s really interesting when it comes to blockchains is that they will entirely change the rules of certificating, tracking and tracing the origins of our goods. And if you add the possibility to introduce tags to the products (RFID or even a QR code would work), it will only be easier to know where and how your latest skirt was made.

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 it being vulnerable to bribery, social engineering or targeted hacking. We don’t even mention if the party is the brand itself, or the biggest actor in the supply chain, making a major conflict of interest.

When tragedies like the Rana Plaza are still on our minds, we believe that the blockchain technology will truly help sparking the fashion revolution. Beyond the social problems lying in fashion’s supply chain is the huge impact it has on our planet: the apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and remains the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil. It’s 2016 guys, isn’t it the best moment to seek a future where we actually make something positive with our past failures and mistakes?

Do you believe in tech providing more convincing answers to consumers? Let us know what you think of blockchain in fashion & share your thoughts in the commentary section below ;-)

You can also come to our panel talk, Monday October 10th at Numa Paris, where we will have the chance to speak with Thibaut Schaeffer, Blockchain Engineer at Provenance!



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