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AMSTERDAM – The organic cotton in a pair of kids’ pyjamas has been traced from the farm to the customer as part of a blockchain project aimed at demonstrating traceability along the apparel supply chain. The pilot was a joint effort between Fashion for Good, C&A Foundation and the Organic Cotton Accelerator, with support from C&A, Kering, PVH Corp. and Zalando SE, and Bext360 as the leading technical partner.

Tracing raw material flows through the textile supply chain has proved hugely challenging, especially those linked to particular standards such as organic cotton. There are also other concerns right now, not least those relating the use of prison and forced labour in Chinese cotton-apparel supply chains.

The Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot was initiated in 2018 by the partner organisations to test and validate ‘on-product markers’ in combination with blockchain technology as a potential industry solution to traceability.

For the project, the technical partner, Bext360, was backed by supporting technical partners Haelixa, Tailorlux, IN-Code Technologies and Corebiome, whose DNA, invisible fluorescent and microbiome technologies respectively were applied in tracking the organic cotton.

After enduring the manufacturing processes of spinning, chemical treatments, high temperatures and dyeing, the DNA and invisible fluorescent tracers emerged intact to positively identify the cotton in consumer ready garments in retail outlets.

E-Code NFC tags provided by IN-Code Technologies enabled additional verification by way of unique digital data points collected through production. Deploying machine vision and artificial intelligence to automatically catalogue and grade the quality of the cotton, the Bext360 blockchain platform can then track each transaction, through the entire value chain.

Katrin Ley, managing director of Fashion for Good said: The success of the Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot provides a positive impulse towards traceability and transparency in the value chain. We’ve gathered sufficient insights and evidence to support the case, in terms of technical as well as operational viability, for the wider implementation of the process in the organic cotton industry. In addition, the process shows enormous potential for further expansion to include other fibres in the fashion supply chain.” 

Current traceability systems, though reliable, rely largely on paper-based trails of certification as well as various, separate systems to manage the chain of custody. The new process explored inthe Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot creates a digital and physical trail that increases reliability of traceability by combining the immutability of blockchain with on-product markers that verify the identity of the fibre.

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