by Lori Brown
Blockchain technology has made a warmly welcomed appearance in the fashion industry. A forward-thinking fashion leader, Martine Jarlgaard, is using the distributed ledger so that her clothing company will be accountable for the story behind the making of its garments.
The industry of fashion, while highly competitive, has always been an enabler of bad business, even if accidentally, because consumers have not previously been able to access the creation data for their purchased clothing. The story that leads to the final sale of a hot new pair of jeans has seldom been told, and Martine Jarlgaard initiated a change that will reshape the way we see and consume products coming from the fashion industry. Speaking to Forbes, the London-based designer said:
“When I think about our world and outsourcing now, we’ve gained a great distance to how things are made. We need to re-educate ourselves. Technology will be what helps to reconnect us to the people and the places involved, and that information will increase consumer expectations, which will put more pressure on the big companies.”
With this in mind, the London Fashion Designer has taken a bold leap into the future, by launching an initiative that uses blockchain technology; this technology provides a distributed record of events. A permanent and unchangeable chain, requiring confirmation of accuracy and truth from multiple, unrelated parties. The colliding worlds of the blockchain and fashion means the entire story will be told accurately from the farming of the fabrics contents, all the way through production of garments to the merchandising of the final product.
Martine Jarlgaard will implement the new technology with the help of their new alliance with technology experts at Provenance, and at the London College of Fashion's Innovation Agency. A cleverly designed Provenance app will showcase the previously untold story behind the making of all new collections (this is fashionista talk for the new season’s batch of clothing garments). The app displays the history of the product from a British Alpaca Fashion farm through multiple steps all the way to Martine Jarlgaard, at the designer’s studio in London.
Each garment has a unique identifier that can be verified using the Provenance app, available on Android and iPhone. While such availability of data might seem like more information than is truly needed, Jarlgaard explains why it is important for consumers and manufacturers to pay attention to these details.
“Getting a window into this world – a world that until now has been a secret or seen as insignificant – is a really important thing. By having it as a possibility [for consumers] to access it, we’ll move further in the direction of having that as a standard expectation in the product. Full transparency and traceability becomes a stamp of approval allowing consumers to make informed choices with no extra effort.”
Matthew Drinkwater, who runs the Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion added, “What we’re looking to create is a new protocol and standard for giving consumers confidence in what they’re buying. The fact that this is blockchain verified will mean it’s a product that they can believe in. That’s where there should be a movement towards, and as the technology evolves, we’ll see the final part of the process become even more transparent and visible for consumers.”
The Copenhagen Fashion Summit introduced the concept on May 11 with a collection named “Fragile; A State of Emergency” from Martine Jarlgaard. Using only their smartphones, consumers were able to scan a QR code or NFC label on any new Martine Jarlgaard garment to access the Provenance website easily and see the historically verified life and travels of the individual garment they have in their hand.
From a business perspective blockchain technology usually means more profit. Regarding costs, distributed ledger technology increases the stability of the chain of supply, and will ultimately reduce the amount of product waste that is usually figured into future profit projections for companies like the clothing design company of Martine Jarlgaard. The permanent and unchangeable blockchain makes errors in production crystal clear and therefore will eliminate the repeated mistake swiftly. However, greed is not a motivator for the London designer.
“We want to strengthen consumers’ connections to a product, so they don’t see them as so disposable.”
With every partner in the supply chain able to show off their work, consumers will be able to uncover a ‘story’ behind the products they buy and raise their expectations that they will always be able to do so, in effect, forcing the fashion industry’s hand to become more accountable.