Everybody talks about 'Blockchain' these days but very few understand what it is. Moreover, there is not just only one blockchain, but thousands of blockchains. In simple terms, a blockchain is an immutable ledger. A book where you record anything, and what you record can't be ever changed.
That's why in fashion, particularly in the supply chains, blockchain is a critical step towards higher transparency.
Take cotton as an example. The demand for fashion products made of cotton has grown up to 15 Billion USD. However, cotton production is extremely detrimental to the environment, due to water consumption and toxic chemicals used during its processes.
Some experts point to the transition from cotton to organic cotton, as a solution to the fashion industry's pollution and waste problems.
As shown by USDF, organic cotton is a fifteen-billion-dollar market since the demand is high and companies generate three times more revenue than clothes made from conventional cotton.
The production of organic cotton requires less pesticide and water. However, farmers still prefer conventional cotton as it remains a lot cheaper to produce than its sustainable alternative. That's why organic cotton still accounts for lesser than 1 per cent of the total cotton production in the world.
Although, as we are becoming aware of the environmental impact of our clothes, the demand for sustainable fashion apparel is growing. Nevertheless, the fast-growing demand for sustainable fashion coupled with the brands' desire to save money, has led to a market of greenwashing.
Fashion brands are passing their products are organic - since it remains difficult to trace such pro-environmental claims. And the best way to look at the scale of greenwashing is to calculate the amount of existing organic cotton in the world, which surpasses by far the amount of organic cotton ever produced if that's even possible.
Moreover, the complexity of the fashion supply chain adds to the difficulty of measuring the environmental impact of material used in our garments.
Going back to consumers' growing demands for transparency, fashion brands are now faced with the problem of proving the authenticity of their products.
And this is where the blockchain technology comes in handy, and the number of companies trying to solve the problem is rising. Bext360, a blockchain startup operating in the agricultural sector, now expanding into fashion.
The startup is doing a pilot test to understand how fashion brands can benefit from the blockchain technology and finally ensure the authenticity and integrity of the cotton they're buying.
With Bext360, the entry point is at the level of farming, by testing the cotton's authenticity and the farm practices. Then, it is marking the cotton bags with critical information such as where it was harvested, when, and by whom.
This initiative has been named 'Organic Cotton Traceability', and Bext360 is backed by C&A Foundations and Fashion for Good to make it a reality.
Other companies taking part in this initiative are PVH Corp, Zalando, and Kering group a luxury giant which owns Gucci and Alexander McQueen amongst a wide range of luxury fashion brands. There's a second phase in the "Organic Cotton Traceability pilot", designed to trace the textile even further.
In this last stage, the system collects and records data which can be utilized by farmers, textile manufactures, and fashion brands.
The data is then processed to create an electronic 'token' that can track the cotton from the farming site until it reaches the hands of the consumers.
Only time will tell if we can ever get rid of greenwashing in fashion. However, it is certain the blockchain technology has the capability of taking us a step further.