Blockchain Could Be the Future of the Apparel Supply Chain
If you try to stay up to date on technological or economic trends, chances are you’ve either read about or at least seen references to blockchain. Though vague and catchy, the term is no mere buzzword. While plenty of hype and speculation still surround blockchain, all that I’ve read about it so far points to the seemingly inevitable: Blockchain is the way of the future.
Although rather difficult to deftly describe, I’ll make a valiant attempt here. Blockchain is a distributed ledger, originally written for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, which distributes transactional data openly, transparently, and through a series of interconnected and identifiable computers. In the case of banking, what happens now is that a centralized server performs the steps necessary to complete a transaction. This means that the central network will have sole responsibility over protecting sensitive data involved with processing the transaction. As we’ve seen recently, these centralized networks are incredibly vulnerable to attack due to their size and many entry points. In comparison, blockchain distributes these transactional responsibilities using cryptography to secure sensitive information. Since a network of computers is used, the data is stored across the chain, rather than centrally, meaning that the corruption of one computer would be counteracted by a timestamp stored on the other computers within the chain. If an error were to occur, the remaining uncorrupted computers would overrule the faulty one, thus maintaining the integrity of the transaction and all data associated with it.
Beyond its capabilities for security purposes, blockchain also promises to offer a democratic, transparent method for distributing data across supply chains. Though the future is uncertain, there is excitement in the air for the apparel industry, especially with regard to the world of wearable electronics.
Wearable electronics, such as RFIDs or smart fabric, allow for digital codes to be encoded into textiles. While these technologies are still young, they could eventually allow for individual apparel products to collect and distribute user data across the supply chain, leading to more efficient manufacturing. It could also allow for apparel companies to collect data on how often, and in what environments, certain styles are worn, which could revolutionize the way they design and market products, as well as eliminate waste when it comes to the mass-production of unpopular styles.
In the midst of all these possibilities, blockchain emerges as the likely vehicle for innovation. Blockchain, which distributes data horizontally and transparently, could be a way for data collected by wearable electronics to be accessed across the supply chain, meaning that retailers, distributors, suppliers, and manufacturers would have equal access to data, alongside the consumer. This would revolutionize the apparel industry, as well as build consumer trust and satisfaction, and as one study has shown, the transparent supply chain of the future is not just a pipe dream.
Using an app called Provenance, a Danish fashion designer managed to track the production process of a garment made with alpaca fleece. By giving each garment a unique digital code, the app was able to track the process of production from farm to mill to studio. The success of this project shows that it is possible to make each step of the supply chain transparent, so that consumers can be absolutely certain as to how an apparel product was made. In a world where the modern consumer, more than ever before, looks for products that are sustainably, responsibly and ethically produced, blockchain promises to make the entirety of the apparel supply chain transparent to all parties involved.
While all this talk of tech has my head spinning, one thing remains clear: A more transparent supply chain would change irreversibly the relationship consumers have with the companies that design, manufacture, distribute and sell the apparel products they choose to wear. In the world of social media and smartphones, in which the consumer is more connected than ever before, companies would be wise to take advantage of any opportunity which offers them a means not only of reaching the connected consumer, but also of offering them the means with which to communicate back. For the apparel industry, blockchain proposes a way toward this transparent, yet secure, supply chain of the future. Why not follow it?