SPONSORED CONTENT – Traceability and transparency have risen up the apparel industry agenda – and with good reason. As well as protecting brands from potential reputational damage, the ability to fully trace textile fibres through supply chains means brands can, in theory, “tell the story” of their clothing garment to consumers. This represents a compelling marketing proposition in an age where winning hearts and minds among consumers is central to business strategy.
Supporting brands and manufacturers on this new journey is Swiss-based Haelixa, which has developed an innovative fibre traceability solution that allows products to carry DNA markers as a forensic proof of their origin and journey through value chains as well as for their authenticity and integrity.
Each Haelixa marker is a unique “fingerprint” to identify a specific farm, manufacturer, brand, collection or even lot or material type (e.g. differentiate certified material from non-certified one). These markers can be applied anywhere along the supply chain following a strict and when needed audited procedure, and be verified in the final garment or intermediate product with a simple and reliable test. Each marker works as a key lock system: to be able to detect it, one has to know the specific DNA fingerprint to screen for – ensuring the system is tamper proof. The reliable product verification method enables brands and manufacturers to substantiate products claims related to origin, quality, authenticity and processing at each step of the supply chain.
The markers are harmless for humans and the environment, GMO free, vegan, approved as chemical input by GOTS and Oekotex 100 compliant, yet specifically engineered to survive all textile industrial processing. Says Michela Puddu, Co-Founder and CEO of Haelixa: “The Haelixa marker can be applied at any point of the supply chain – even directly at the farm. It is added at trace level (less than parts per million) as a water-based formulation that does not alter purity, quality or processes.
“The marker is safely embedded into the product itself, so cannot be tampered with, in contrast to paper trails.”
To demonstrate Haelixa markers in practice, we look at the company’s collaboration with Weberei Appenzell SA, a Swiss manufacturer of finest fabrics for shirting (www. weba.ch). In 2019, the duo implemented the supply chain traceability of Egyptian lint cotton with Haelixa DNA technology. Marking was performed in Minya and Cairo (Egypt), with two different kinds of lint cotton marked at the gin and verified at all further steps in the supply chain. The cotton marked were Giza 96 and Giza 45, the latter the most highly graded cotton fibre of the Egyptian cottons. Giza 45 was tagged with the unique marker Weba 1, and Giza 96 was tagged with marker Weba 2 in Cairo by local workers, following Haelixa’s spraying procedures that seamlessly integrate into existing processes and do not require upfront investment in additional infrastructures.
The markers did not alter the properties of the materials and preserve their quality. Samples of lint cotton, yarn, and fabric at different steps were verified, and correct DNA markers were detected up to the finished fabric (both dyed and printed) which went through all the processing steps and were even post-consumer tested to 30 washes.
Said Benjamin Fuchs, CEO WEBA, of the successful project: “Transparency has been one of our most important goals since we started harvesting our own organic GIZA cotton in Egypt in 2018. The unique Haelixa technology is a major breakthrough in guaranteeing full physical product traceability along the whole supply chain.”
Said Michela Puddu: “This implementation work demonstrated the reliability and accuracy of the Haelixa solution. Considering WEBA high quality luxury products, the tracing tool was used to prove the nature of the cotton, its origin and the specified supply chain. Finally, Haelixa tracers were confirmed to be suitable for proving fabric authenticity – fabrics marked with Haelixa could be identified after harsh chemical treatment as well as at least 30x washing cycles.
“In cases like this one, where the material changes hands multiple times and is shipped from one facility to another for the finest processing, adding physical traceability is critical to ensure that the origin and processing claims can be backed up.”
To find out more about Haelixa, Apparel Insider put some questions to Michela Puddu, CEO and Co-Founder of the business.
Looking at the fashion and textiles industry, what gave you the belief that there is a need for the traceability solutions provided by Haelixa? Consumers, NGOs, governments and even the brands themselves ask for more transparency related to the origin and integrity of products, and traceability is key to achieve that. Product authenticity is another important factor that can be ensured by traceability. Due to the highly dispersed and complex nature of textile supply chains, it becomes very difficult with traditional methods to ensure traceability, as many things can go wrong (e.g. blending/ replacements, fake certificates) and there is no way to document it.
Until now, fashion supply chains have relied on paper trails and audits to trace the origin of fibres and products. Do you see your solution as an alternative to such systems or are they complimentary? Paper trails miss the link to the real-world products, which makes them vulnerable to fraud as the information can be manipulated. It is possible to replicate documentation or use it in an unauthorised way. By embedding product information in the material itself, the unfalsifiable marker proves that the product is what it claims to be. This way we substantiate product claims and protect the proper use of certain certifications and standards. While an audit provides a snapshot of a supply chain point/facility at a given time, it does not provide information about what happens between the points; Haelixa’s technology enables simple and affordable data reconciliation between all points of the supply chain, to prevent and detect irregularities between and at each individual node. Therefore, the Haelixa solution supports auditing, reducing the dependency on manpower and supply chain documentation, which can be replicated and is not always authentic.
The use of technology on these issues will bring with it a cost. How easily can they be absorbed? Product recalls, bans or being blacklisted as a supplier for a false product claim have a high cost and inflict a reputational damage which is difficult to repair. The investment in creating traceability is easily offset by cost-savings in the form of a transparent and flexible supply chains that easily adapt to changing situations, remain competitive and comply with the national and international legislation. Traceability could not only provide cost-saving opportunities but also be a source of revenue. Additionally, the clear added value which is created through product traceability enables brands and manufacturers to charge a premium or gain additional market share.
Do you see a competitive advantage for brands and their partners which embrace these kinds of solutions at an early stage? And why? Now that most companies promote sustainability in one way or another, using physical traceability to support claims related to social and environmental standards or the origin of a product makes them stand out. Besides providing a forensic proof for their commitment to transparency, embedding a company’s unique DNA “signature” in the garment creates a clear differentiator. This brings additional credibility, creates trust and branding opportunities, enabling companies to become preferred suppliers or brands. Moreover, with the recent US import ban on products coming from China’s Xinjiang, we have seen that traceability is closely linked to compliance and risk management and this is certainly an area where there is not time to waste.
Who verifies/identifies the products using your solution? The product verification tests are performed by Haelixa or an authorized third-party for accreditation with either the finished product or an intermediate product. Having the product verified by Haelixa or a third party gives the claims additional credibility being performed by a neutral third partner. We also enable clients who use the technology for internal supply chain management purposes to erform the analysis themselves with provided DIY test kits
For more info visit haelixa.com or contact Haelixa at firstname.lastname@example.org