Mike Hogan & Rajeev Kewlani
VP Life Sciences & Business Consultant respectively Applied DNA Sciences
What is the cost of acquiring this technology? Can small and medium scale companies that form the core of textiles industry in India afford this technology?
MH: For textiles, we have tagged as little as 2 million kg to 50 million kg of fibre, and we have been able to work with the supply chain to incorporate the cost of tagging. The more you tag, the more cost-effective it is. The value that we bring is traceability, transparency and trust in supply chains. When you think of how much money is spent on advertising budgets, and then you think about how much is done to protect the brand's products and the reputation, the cost of our technology is minuscule. If more brands and retailers ask the question-where do my products come from and where they are going-they will come to the quick realisation that they can do a lot when they have a more transparent supply chain and perhaps become more efficient and effective through the process. We learned through our partners that it takes a different mindset when you start to think about your supply chain and make it a fair return-a true win-win for all. This is what sustainability is about. Making the supply chain more resilient and more transparent. That is why this concept of the CertainT platform is so crucial.
RK: This is about involving all the parties of the supply chain from start to finish. Even smaller suppliers and manufacturers are a part of the supply chain in India. They directly or indirectly are a part of bigger brands. So they can, and should be involved as part of a CertainT platform. There is little to no change to current production processes. What is needed is a change in the mindset- that you are now looking from the fibre forward rather than from the fabric backward. By the time you check a finished good, it might be too late because the starting material may be in question. Our message is, if you have any uncertainty in your supply chain, we can help bring CertainT back in.
MH: It is mostly to do with discipline. I think our chief information officer pointed out the analogy of tagging to barcodes. Just printing barcodes on a piece of paper has no value. They need to be deployed properly, and only then do they add value. The discipline came into play with ink bar coding. This forced supply chains to bring about a discipline by using the printed barcodes that were incorporated into production and systems globally. Our molecular barcodes can work just like that, but are embedded in the product itself so that you can authenticate it anywhere in the world, either inside or outside of its packaging. That's the revolution in textiles that we kickstarted by giving textile products an identity.
RK: Just to cite an example of barcodes; everyone was considering an effort and cost to barcode a product until they realised their entire system and process works much faster and efficiently by scanning those codes at so many places. Then barcodes were accepted and the discipline came into place, making barcode a new normal. This is the phase where self-discipline of supply chain or a commitment to keep the supply chain clean came about.
MH: Now you can ask the question of what is the cost of doing this and rather what is the cost of not doing it?
RK: It is like being true to your commitments and even all your sustainability efforts. If I am saying that my garment contains 20 per cent R-PET or if my garment contains cellulose fibres which are being sourced not from deforestation but sourced from a sustainable source of wood, you need to support that. Mere paper trail documentation or mass balance, which in the past we have seen can be managed, will not suffice. If there is something that is inherent in the product which you can test at a given point of time, then that itself deters from making any kind of change into a supply chain.
Any plans to step into co-branding in hang-tags of products that reach the consumers and thus create awareness too?
MH: I think that is the next big step in some areas of our business. We are already doing this with our CertainT platform in certain verticals.
RK: In a way, CertainT will do that. It's like the 'Intel inside' for textiles. It shows that these goods were tagged, tested and tracked. In a way you are creating your own genealogy for the product. It's very exciting! MH: We have a very savvy technical team. Our chief information officer and the several folks who work for her have been deeply involved for more than a decade in building that kind of customer relationship, in terms of reading bar codes and getting some information, building the DNA story that is something they are already expert at.
Is the molecular tagging for fibres and yarn for the cotton and synthetic hackable?
RK: This is the first question which I get asked in every presentation we make or every meeting we attend. It cannot be copied, and there are some additional layers built into it that are proprietary.
MH: The way we deploy our DNA-based molecular tags, they cannot be hacked. You don't even know what actually exists unless you can amplify it.
Once applied across the textile value chain, what is the expected percentage reduction of carbon footprint?
MH: While we do not see our platform having an effect on carbon footprint, supply chains can use our technology to identify products which have used their processes for improved carbon footprint. Then, it becomes a much more valid argument. Otherwise, right now I could buy from some factory and just decide to say that I have reduced the carbon footprint and my product is better for business. But there could be no truth to it at all. So, our DNA would be a way to tag a product that has been produced by a process verified to reduce carbon footprint. This would be of help to answer the true carbon footprint tag. It's almost exactly logistically like the organic one; how do you know if something was grown in a bona fide organic fashion. Similarly, by the time something gets passed down in the supply chain then how do you know that something and somewhere it will reduce carbon footprint. It has to be verified at a particular time, and our DNA could be a way to tag it. I think it is potentially a very good way to try to compel people to reduce their carbon footprint and tell the truth about it at the same time.
What are the limitations of molecular tagging?
MH: Well, I think there are always limitations to everything. As an innovative company, at times, we push the technical boundaries pretty significantly. Originally, people were saying DNA is too unstable-it is just a biological molecule and it will all go poof one day. This is simply not true- DNA, when formulated correctly, is quite robust actually. One of our core technology partners said that Applied DNA's core competency is learning how to formulate DNA to endure extreme environments. Some of the things that we do everyday, most chemical and molecular experts would think are impossible. For instance, we put DNA into extreme environments every day-for example, we regularly put DNA into cured epoxy ink which has to be heated to 150°C for half hour to cure. In case of the polyester, we know in an almost extreme case, polyester does not even melt until 300°C. We had to make DNA stable at 300°C for 5 minutes in molten polyester, as it is thermoplastic. Everybody in the thermoplastic business knows that most other thermoplastics actually melt at much milder conditions. Polyethylene or polypropylene is 100° C. It was huge challenge for us. It has been a valuable learning experience to keep our tags and DNA intact at such very high temperatures.
From which regions do customers within the textile and apparel domain hail from?
MH: The US, Canada, Mexico, of course, in case of cotton growth. We have many partners in India, the US, China, and throughout Asia, Europe, Middle-East and Africa.
Anything else you would like to add or say?
MH: I came into Applied DNA because I had worked in biotech for a long time. I had always thought what can you do with the DNA? I first started with my pharma company to make DNA therapeutics in order to help companies make DNA diagnostics. When I found that Applied DNA was turning the idea of using DNA as a way to secure and authenticate supply chains, I thought that was a fantastic technical challenge. For me, it may be the best use of DNA by far for supply chain control, and that is the reason we moved from California to Stony Brook. I think DNA has wonderful diversity and flexibility, and may only be scratching the surface in terms of really developing its utility. Everyday we are uncovering more and more applications for our molecular taggants. Our goal is not to be somehow the DNA police for the universe; but we work with individual supply chain partners who have their own quality systems and people who are very good and concerned about sustainability, fair trade; and we also work with people who are experts in establishing the original materials, low carbon footprint, organic produce and so forth. We want to work closely with them, and our job is to use our knowledge of quality from the DNA side and work as a team.
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