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Blockchain Technology - The Fashion Industry Transparency Ideal?

By Charlotte Delacour

It is not breaking news, there is an increasing interest from consumers to know more about the products they buy. Blockchain technology appears as the perfect tool to fulfill this desire by -in theory- ensuring transparency and traceability.

Blockchain technology, conceptualized in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto, was applied first to the Bitcoin in 2009. The aim? Getting a public transaction register for Bitcoin, allowing users to make and receive payments without any control body. However, like every technology, Blockchain has quickly evolved and virtual payments are nowadays, only one of the possible applications of this tool. Before tackling how the fashion industry is concerned by Blockchain, we think that a few explanations regarding the concept are required.

Imagine Blockchain as a digital blank page that belongs to an entity -generally a company- that decides who writes the information, the type of information, which will then be transferred through a network. If IT is not as much your cup of tea as Bitcoin, let's see how we can illustrate this technology with a fashion industry stakeholder. Let’s focus on a fashion designer who wants to add data about the origin of a raw material on the blank page, also called a ledger. His request is broadcasted on a network made of computers. The network validates the request and once the former is verified, a new block is added to the blank page. From this process stems an important point: the transaction of date on the raw material’s origin will remain permanent and not modifiable.

Beautiful promises. Beyond the technical aspects, Blockchain is supposed to have concrete benefits for the fashion industry. First of all, the founding concept of this tool is TRANS-PA-REN-CY. Indeed, the technology helps to trace back the whole production chain from means of transport to a storage place or even the working conditions of employees (to name just a few elements). This transparency is intended to be seen by consumers as a proof of trust and a pledge of integrity as the traceability and the sustainability of the chain is demonstrated. Another advantage given by Blockchain is the possibility to lessen the counterfeit and fraud regarding luxurious products especially. Indeed, the authenticity is accessible thanks to the ledger filled by all brand’s stakeholders. In that respect, designers and brand owners should see the protection of their intellectual property strengthened. Thus, these explanations help you to realize that Blockchain can be used as a very good communication tool if it is made accessible. 

Indispensable tool or smokescreen? The accessibility of fashion brands blockchain is one of the limit of this technology as it relies on the degree of willingness of its creator to be transparent and honest. As we already said, Blockchain is controlled by someone within the company therefore, the objectivity behind the available data can be called into questions. Although we are trusting people’s good faith, naive, we are not, and all the more when greenwashing temptation is around the corner. These doubts can be increased when blockchains that can be public remain private or when a brand has subcontractors overseas who must be sufficiently equipped and skilled to enter data.

But the real question is: is Blockchain indispensable? No. Some brands are able to demonstrate transparency without any technology. Sabrina Facchetti, a jewelry designer whose products are made in small batches using natural products and 3D printing to minimise the impact on the environment. Make What You Will, a bag brand also ensures a small batches production using recycled materials. To name a last one from our LCD designers, Edward Mongzar whose garments are ethically made in the UK. 

However, we must know how to take things into account: a brand that wants to adopt blockchain technology or a brand that does not use it while ensuring its own transparency and traceability will always be more reliable than those that remain silent.

Furthermore, there is a paradox around Blockchain. On one hand, this digital tool tries to prove and make the fashion industry more sustainable but on the other hand, the energy required to allow the process of data transaction and their validation is really energy-consuming. Thus, a ratio has to be established between the energy solved by the efficiency of the technology and the energy consumed. 

Although Blockchain is a guarantee and a truly efficient tool to save time in the fluidity of information, it is an investment that can have high costs that not everyone can afford. Therefore, is not this technology only a fashionable tool that the major fashion industry groups are taking it over to respond to consumer’s desire for knowledge and transparency? Be careful, like all fashion trends, there comes a time when it loses its glow.

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