From Fibre to Finish: Tracing Sustainable Viscose
Around six million tonnes of viscose are used to produce garments annually, and demand is only expected to increase. With an estimated 30 per cent of viscose sourced from endangered forests, ensuring the fibres originate from renewable sources will secure its potential as one of the sustainable fibres of the future. As such, a call for transparency in fashion supply chains and scalable traceability solutions for viscose fibre has become a top priority for the fashion industry.
Launching the Viscose Traceability Project today, Fashion for Good brings together a pioneering consortium to pilot a solution that verifies sustainable viscose fibres along the fashion supply chain. Developed in collaboration with BESTSELLER and Kering, the project applies the innovative blockchain technology from TextileGenesis™ (a Fashion for Good Innovator) to trace the viscose in the textile supply chain spanning eight countries. In addition to their operational support, BESTSELLER, and Kering, together with Zalando, provide the financial backing needed to enable the nine-month project.
“A critical step towards a circular fashion industry is verifying that the materials used are sourced sustainably, processed responsibly and can provide the information needed to ensure their value can be recaptured at the end-of-use. This consortium project elaborates on our foundational traceability work with organic cotton to bring a scalable solution for traceability, from fibre to finish, in the viscose supply chain.” – Katrin Ley, Managing Director, Fashion for Good.
Facilitated by Fashion for Good, the Viscose Traceability Project is a collaboration with leading brands BESTSELLER and Kering who will provide the eight garment styles to be traced for the pilot, with fibres sourced from three leading sustainable viscose producers. TextileGenesis™ designs traceability applications for use across the entire textile value chain, from fibre to finished goods. They will provide their blockchain solution and platform to trace the origins of the viscose used in the garments along the supply chains of the two participating brands. These supply chains, consisting of spinners, weavers, knitters, dye-houses and garment makers, span a total of eight countries to reflect the real-world complexities and various supply-chain scenarios to fully test the flexibility and scalability of the platform.
“Our use of more sustainable materials is increasing intensely in BESTSELLER and we want to guarantee the integrity of raw material sources. By using blockchain technology we can ensure increased transparency where we verify that the sustainable fibres are used throughout the supply chain from fibre manufacturer to end product.” - Camilla Skjønning Jørgensen, Sustainable Materials & Innovation Manager, BESTSELLER.
Past Lessons For Future Solutions
The project builds upon learnings from the 2019 Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot, which investigated the technical feasibility of blockchain and physical tracers using organic cotton as the primary fibre. The Viscose Traceability Project’s ambitions lie beyond technical feasibility, however, going further to explore, in detail, the necessary next-steps to making a traceability solution not only effective but scalable on a sector-wide, commercial level.
Having already demonstrated the technological feasibility of the TextileGenesis™ platform and its ability to integrate chain of custody certification in previous pilots, this project will focus on demonstrating the feasibility of global application of the solution across the viscose supply chain. Success will be measured against the flexibility of the solution - being able to operate across diverse supply chains; the interoperability of the solution - collecting data from multiple platforms into a single system; and scalability - global implementation across multiple brands, fibre producers and supply chains.
“Kering participated in the Fashion for Good orchestrated Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot from 2018 to 2019 and gained valuable learnings about the effectiveness of physical tracers coupled with blockchain technology. With the Viscose Traceability Project, we are excited to build upon these findings with an in-depth focus on our viscose supply chain. We are confident that the pilot will bring key insights on how we could implement such a solution at scale and across different supply chains.” - Christine Goulay, Head of Sustainable Innovation, Kering.
The scope of the project focuses on tracing viscose fibres from production to retail. To do so, the project leverages the impactful work of the CanopyStyle initiative to eliminate ancient and endangered forest fibre from viscose production and to bolster adoption of forest certification standards such as FSC, to address traceability in the earlier parts of the supply chain, i.e. from forest to viscose fibre production. Canopy has joined the project as an advisor to support the screening and selection of viscose producers as well as to provide guidance towards scaling the traceability efforts post-pilot.
“Now that 52 per cent of the global supply of viscose is ranked as ‘Green Shirt’ in Canopy’s 2020 Hot Button Report, brands now want to make sure that they are getting the ‘Green Shirt’ product they have paid for. This pilot will help build a robust traceability system for what has historically been an opaque supply chain.” - Nicole Rycroft, Executive Director, Canopy.
The three fibre producers, Lenzing, ENKA and Tangshan Sanyou, were selected due to their “Green Shirt” ranking on the Canopy Hot Button Report and reputation as leaders in the sustainability field. Through this consortium platform, Canopy and TextileGenesis™ have further developed their partnership: upgrades of the TextileGenesis™ platform will integrate Canopy hot-button ranking data and next-generation viscose lines which will not only be available to the participating pilot brands but to all other brands using the platform.
The Promise of Blockchain
Blockchain has emerged as a promising tool for supply chain transparency and traceability. The immutability of a blockchain platform mitigates the risk of fraudulent activity, recording the journey of a product throughout the supply chain. TextileGenesis’ innovative platform uses Fibercoins as their blockchain-based digital tokens which provide a “digital twin” for sustainable fibres. The platform allows supply chain players to transfer these digital coins in parallel to the production of textile products as they move through the supply chain. They have also created a fibre-to-retail traceability data protocol for the apparel ecosystem based on the GS1 framework - a global traceability standard used in the food and healthcare industry.
“Traceability in the textile value chain is challenging due to high industry fragmentation and global supply chains. Sourcing of sustainable fashion products increasingly requires full supply chain traceability to ensure the integrity of sustainability claims. We see sustainability and traceability as two sides of the same coin, and our purpose is to accelerate the realisation of 100 per cent sustainable fibres pledges by providing radical transparency in the textile value chain.” - Amit Gautam, CEO and Founder, TextileGenesis™
Following the completion of the pilot in late 2021, an aggregated report detailing the key findings and best practices will be shared publicly.
A Little Bit About Fashion For Good
Fashion for Good is the global initiative that is here to make all fashion good. It’s a global platform for innovation, made possible through collaboration and community. With an open invitation to the entire apparel industry, Fashion for Good convenes brands, retailers, suppliers, non-profit organisations, innovators and funders united in their shared ambition.
At the core of Fashion for Good is our Innovation Platform. Based in the Amsterdam headquarters and recently expanding the programme to South Asia, the global Fashion for Good accelerator programme gives promising start-up innovators the expertise and access to the funding they need in order to grow. Our scaling programme and our foundational projects support innovations that have passed the proof-of-concept phase, initiating pilot projects with partner organisations and guided by our dedicated team that offers bespoke support and access to expertise, customers and capital. Our Good Fashion Fund catalyses access to finance to shift at scale to more sustainable production methods.
Fashion for Good also acts as a Convener for Change, with the world’s first interactive museum dedicated to sustainable fashion and innovation. In our headquarters, Fashion for Good houses a Circular Apparel Community co-working space creates open-source resources like its Good Fashion Guide that provides practical advice to implement cradle-to-cradle™ certified apparel as well as white papers and reports investigating industry practices and developments.
Founding partner Laudes Foundation supports Fashion for Good’s programmes (formerly C&A Foundation), co-founder William McDonough and corporate partners Adidas, C&A, CHANEL, BESTSELLER, Galeries Lafayette Group, Kering, Otto Group, PVH Corp., Stella McCartney, Target and Zalando and affiliate partners Archroma, Arvind, HSBC, Norrøna, vivobarefoot and Welspun.
NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience
Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.
The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.
A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach
“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.
“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.
But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?
“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.
Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes
So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry.
“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality.
“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”
Evolving Procurement Models
From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view.
“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.
“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”
“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”
But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?
“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.
These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.
On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.
Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”
He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”
As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”