”A paper saying ’this is sustainable’ was enough yesterday, but tomorrow we need documented facts behind it”

On why blockchain technology will take the traceability work into a new era
February 07, 2022

According to Holgaard Langer, traceability is still in its early maturity phase in the fashion and design industry.

— Compared with other industries where traceability is a license to operate, such as the food industry, we are only just getting started to raise the awareness of traceability and explaining what and why, she tells.

With a background in international fashion and retail, she has been heading up SPOOR, a Danish venture providing full traceability back to the single animal in the leather industry, since September 2020.

— Many brands communicate about sustainable actions in their choices on, for instance, materials, compliance, carbon emissions, and processes. To document that, traceability is needed. And once having full traceability you are able to demonstrate transparency. So, in our case, having full traceability back to the single animal on our leather supports the journey towards creating transparency for the brands.

What would you say is the main reason why many companies remain ”untraceable”?

— My personal take on this question is that the fashion and design industry have been very emotional-driven. Buying a bag, chair, or a pair of shoes was all about connecting with a brand, a philosophy, a trend, or a lifestyle. And it still is. However, the conscious consumer demands much more tomorrow than what he or she did yesterday. Sustainability and climate are topics on the international agenda. And this is only the beginning. The requirements from everybody in the ecosystem will rise immensely, and therefore brands will have to document their sustainable actions. And this is really tough — I would say impossible — if you don’t have traceability. And this mindset is just new in our industry. A paper saying ”this is sustainable” was enough yesterday, but tomorrow we need documented facts behind it. 

Birgitte Holgaard Langer.

You use blockchain technology to help companies improve traceability work. How does it work?

— It’s adding an extra layer of trust through data. I like using ”the Brio train analogy” to simplify how blockchain accounting works and go very well hand in hand with traceability. All suppliers and sub-suppliers provide data into their own train carriage, and the data needs to be connectable with the magnets. Once you leave the carriage, or data, the door will lock. And everybody will be able to see if the data has been ”revisited”, changed, or manipulated. So accounting, trust, and visibility on actions through blockchain technology is a way to convey our traceability data, Holgaard Langer tells. She continues:

— One example is how we used blockchain technology in the launch of our collab with the Danish shoe brand Roccamore. From a QR code in the shoes, we could take the customers on a journey to the fields where the cattle grew up, to our tannery facilities in Denmark, the finishing tannery in Germany, and the manufacturer in Tuscany. All dots on the journey from the hide to becoming a shoe were connected, mapped, and visualized through data provided into a blockchain. This required that everybody in the value chain provided the needed data to make the magnets connect. And finally, in the end, in an easy and understandable way the blockchain verified and enhanced the customer experience buying a pair of shoes from the collab.

How’s the future of traceability?

— It will indeed increase once many more understand why sustainability without traceability is very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to document. And technology enables scalability. 

— There are many myths about leather. I sincerely hope that our transparency and traceable aspect will open up the understanding of what traceability really brings. Did the animal have a good life? Is the leather from organic cattle? Which chemicals were specifically used for my pair of shoes? How much water was used for my bag? What is the carbon footprint on this sofa? What is the carbon footprint on Scandinavian leather compared to alternatives? Well, these questions we are now enabling brands to answer through our traceability data. A meaningful project I would like to highlight is the collab with British Anya Hindmarch where we developed a brand new tanning method called Zeolite, based on Swedish leather. It enables that Anya’s bag will naturally biodegrade into the soil leaving more nutritions in the soil than without. Another initiative is that we have joined a collab with leading Scandinavian design and business school VIA University College. We believe joining forces with knowledgeable students — combining theory on technology, business models, sustainability, and traceability with real-life cases — enables an amazing development space and insight that is needed for the future. Mutually! Holgaard Langer concludes.

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