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BORÅS – A new, secure textile traceability system has been developed in a research project at the University of Borås aimed at tackling the lack of traceability and counterfeiting issues in textile supply chains. Researchers have developed unique ‘cryptotags’ containing tiny particles, which randomly form a unique pattern. The tags are printed on finished garments and, by image reading them, it is possible to identify these patterns, similar to identifying a fingerprint. The new system then connects data to the tag. The tag has been developed and tested at the lab scale and has shown promising results on durability, for example washability, abrasion resistance and stretchability. QR codes and RFID chips are currently used as traceability tools, however, it has been claimed these are too easy to copy.

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The traceability system has been developed to be completely open, so that the stakeholders who are connected to it can follow what is happening, from production of raw material to finished garment, and further out to the customer, through the entire supply chain.

Tarun Kumar Agrawal developed the tool during his doctoral studies in Textile Management at the Swedish School of Textiles, University of Borås. He said: “The textile supply chain is a complex network and a lot can happen in the process between the various production lines or stages – from the production of fibre and yarn and on to weaving or knitting the textile, the garment production, the transportation to the retailers, and finally to the consumer.

“Moreover, consumers want to know where the garment they buy come from, what it is made of, and if it is ethically produced. At the same time, the producers want to show, that their products keep promised quality and are sustainable, and they want to be able to protect themselves from counterfeiting.”

In his project, Tarun Kumar Agrawal looked at traceability at the information and product levels, and how it can be ensured that the information passing the systems is reliable.

He added: “It is important that the tag is durable and that the particles, that form the unique pattern, consist and can be read off. This is also important when the garment is worn out and goes to recycling, in order to be able to deduce what material the textile consists of, for example, if it is pure or mixed material.

“The system lacks central authority, which means that there is no individual party that owns and verifies the information transfer. Instead, so-called block chain technology has been used, which is the same technology behind virtual currency transactions, such as bitcoin, to make the information transfer secure. This reduces the risk of the information being manipulated by one single party. Since the system is open to all connected stakeholders, they can follow the production process all the way. The technology helps to develop a technology-based trust among the stakeholders. And, the customer can further know the history of the garment using the system.”

The project has been carried out within the EU framework Erasmus Mundus joint doctorate program ‘Sustainable Management and Design for Textile’, SMDTex, in collaboration with ENSAIT / University of Lille, France, Soochow University, China and the University of Borås.

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