IMPRESSIONS from a Cross-section


There has been a lot of hype about blockchain. But then, beyond cryptocurrencies and fintech, the revolution has not kind of happened so far. How do you react to that? Do you think these are still early days?

Blockchains will be in heavy use by early adopters by 2025
Blockchain has been bandied around for quite a while but still considered a fairly new technology. Subir Ghosh spoke to experts in the field to know their views on how blockchain has been functioning till now and the challenges involved in adopting it in the fashion industry.

Well, we have had waves of technologies to compare ourselves to. One could be use of RFID. We know there was a cost threshold as well as putting the implementation systems around it. Another would be the internet-right from adoption to the years it has taken. What I really appreciate about this question is the expectation that a capability can be released today and really be pervasive tomorrow. We as a world have moved to those expectations. If we think about the supply chain like a food supply chain, it takes a mover and a use case to move the market.

There are leaders and laggards and followers, and that's what we need to recognise. There is an adoption curve as shortened as it is, but I have seen leaders take off and now we are looking for what's in it for you in a supply chain to drive the incentive to continue to adopt and grow. So, you really need to look at how you are doing things and be open to doing things differently.

An effort is made in the fashion industry to address changing consumer attitudes while creating ways to be more transparent about the environmental impact caused by the materials they use. Blockchain is well suited to help garment manufacturers and their suppliers in working together to create a permanent, constant record of the origin of all materials used in production and build trust.

There is a lot of hype over blockchain. It's certainly exciting, and we've been keeping a keen eye on it, but the revolution hasn't happened yet. Blockchain presents a lot of opportunities for enhancing supply chain traceability, however, in its current form, we do not see it as the heroic solution to solve all supply chain challenges. The industry that blockchain is most used in right now is finance-a sector which is already extremely digital. 

When we look at the fashion industry, there's quite a way to go to get supply chains to a similar point. In other words, there is a lot of information that needs acquiring and digitising first-particularly a transfer from manual to digital information-in order for it to be traced on the blockchain. I don't think blockchain is the golden egg that everyone's been waiting for in the fashion industry. It's true that blockchain has the potential to drive improvements in traceability and transparency. A decentralised ledger of openly auditable information certainly speaks to this, but we expect it will have to be used alongside other things-like digitisation of information-to be a solution that has real impact. 

Further specialised permutations for specific use cases still need to be developed in order to find the solution which can be mass adopted by that niche. This is much like we have seen in the cryptocurrency space with hundreds of altcoins and blockchains being developed, all vying to be the 'chosen solution.'

We are definitely in the early stages. Blockchain itself is a rather new technology. It came into the scene around 2008 during the financial crisis when we saw the early green shoots. The technology becoming mainstream is not more than ten years. So, it is a relatively new technology, and it was largely confined for the first 6-7 years to the cryptocurrencies space. No one wanted to touch it. It was seen as something very fancy and only for replacing your cash. Slowly people started exploring and realised that certain ideas, aspects of that technology could be used in industrial applications. So, we are definitely in the early stages yet. It depends on the innovator to ensure that clear business benefits are being delivered. That is the only way to drive adoption. This is not a regulatory environment wherein you can pass a regulation one day and ask the whole technology to be adopted. It has to go hand in hand with the value that is being delivered to the players who use the system/technology.

Yes, we are in the very early days of blockchain. No, it will not take decades. I anticipate that blockchains will be in heavy use by early adopters in 2025. By 2030, blockchain will be as pervasive as the iPhone. The next stage for blockchain would be tracking the environmental impact, such as greenhouse gas emissions, from fibre origin to final delivery to the consumer.

This article was first published in the December 2020 edition of the print magazine.

Published on: 21/12/2020

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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