Will Digital Product Passports save fashion?
I’m starting to wonder if DPP might just be the one EU law that will have the possibility to really push the fashion industry toward a more sustainable future.
3 Oct 2023

Welcome back to Observations. Oh, sweet October! When leaves are yellow and the calendar is bursting at the seams. Things I look forward to right now are: the exhibition The Dress Makes the Man, Haute Couture –A New Era at at Liljevalchs, the upcoming edition of Slush in Helsinki, and more cold-water dips at my house the archipelago.

A programming note: we are hosting our second Beauty Innovation Talks on October 25 in Stockholm, with several high-profile speakers talking about beauty tech. Sign up here to secure an invite.

Passport to sustainability

”It’s going to be a Klondike for tech companies”, said Jessica Cederberg Wodmar when I spoke to her ahead of her panel appearance at Transformation Conference earlier this fall. 

She was referring to the fact that once the EU mandates that every product sold in the EU will need to carry a digital product passport (DPP) it will create a tsunami of demand for tech solutions that will provide said passport. Judging by the increased interest from tech suppliers in the audience at our event, she might be right. 

But what actually is a Digital Product Passport, and how will it affect the fashion industry? 

That is a question I’ve been trying to wrap my head around since first hearing about the concept sometime last year. It all stems from EU Green Deal, initiated by Ursula von der Leyen a few years back and accelerated by the 16 different groups of laws that are fast approaching the fashion industry in the European Union. It’s one group, in particular, called Ecodesign, that stipulates the DPP requirements. 

I’m starting to wonder if DPP might just be THE law that will have the possibility to really push the fashion industry toward a more sustainable future. 

What do I mean by that? 

Well, it’s in the passport’s very concept of being a data carrier for everything that happens during a garment’s lifetime. If we can agree on one basic technology, that will provide one standardized way of reporting sustainability data, and let that play out across the entire fashion ecosystem, we just might have a tool that, bit by bit, can implement everything that is needed for sustainability: traceability, carbon footprint data, easier resell, enabled recycling, and more. 

I have one picture in my mind every time I think about Digital Product Passport. It was given to me by Staffan Olsson, Head of Public Affairs at GS1 Sweden, the organisation behind the EAN barcode and a backer of several DPP pilot projects. 

Stefan held a lecture about DPPs at Techarenan last spring, and on one of his slides, there was a circular illustration showing every part of the supply chain that the DPP will be required to cover. From the raw material and production to the distribution and point-of-sales, all the way to the consumer and the end-of-life scenarios like resell and recycling.

This illustration gave a crystal clear image of how complex the issue of DPP actually will be. Having this stream of suppliers, manufacturers, logistics providers, brands, retailers, and recyclers comply to one unified way of tracing and reporting the lifecycle of a product is baffling to me. On the other hand, the fact that these global players cooperate daily to keep our fashion system going is equally baffling. And we’ve seen before how the right type of technology can implement itself like a virus across the globe. 

Just take the aforementioned barcode by GS1: six billion barcodes are scanned every single day. 

Stefan Olsson of GS1 Sweden presenting DPP at Techarenan earlier this year.

I recently sat down with Stefan Olsson to record a round-table discussion for our latest podcast episode. He was joined by Jenny Wärn, Head of Implementation at Trustrace, and Sandra Roos, Vice President Sustainability, Kappahl, who some of you remember from Transformation Conference. These three organizations have recently announced a pilot project for DPP called Trace4Value, funded by Vinnova.

The conversation, link below, is a good primer for anyone who wants to understand the topic. 

A few takeaways:

• It’s obvious that we are still ways out from understanding exactly how this will work out. The Trace4Value project focuses solely on the manufacturer-brand part of the supply chain. This is also the part that the EU is most clear about. How it will work in the distribution and point-of-sales part is much murkier. 

• No one seems to be talking about how to incentivize the consumer to load up data to their garments DPPs. Will they be required? How? There have been DPP projects developed for the luxury sector, in which there is a clear use case for consumers. Authenticating your €5 000 Chanel bag seems much more reasonable than your €5 H&M t-shirt.

• The Trace4Value project does not contain carbon footprint data, mostly, according to Sandra Roos, because of a debate in the industry over the use of generic vs specific carbon data. Companies like H&M and Norrøna have been using generic carbon data for traceability reporting and were sued by the government in Norway. The panel was confident that technology would, in the future, enable the use of specific data and that consumers would be able to see the exact footprint of each particular product. 

• There is a difference between data and understandable calculations that make sense for consumers and other users. In the beginning, the DPP will basically provide rows of essential data on the product. That’s a start. But the real upside comes when we can provide things like carbon footprint calculations and start using the data. One potential use case is for the design process: if there is clear data about how a specific product is used, how attractive it is on the resell market, and how quickly it makes its way to a recycling facility, it can help make more sustainable design choices. 

So where does this leave us? Well, the Trace4Value project will run throughout 2024, and report its findings in the fall, so we will have reason to come back to that. But there are several other pilot projects out there. Later this year, a Technical committee for Digital Product Passport will be established in the EU, and the first standards are to be published Q1 of 2024. 

Perhaps the most compelling view of this came from Sandra Roos, who said this about DPP at the end of our conversion: 

“DPP will be something like having a key to your home. It’s something you use every day but don’t think about.”


I enjoyed recording this session with Jenny Wärn, head of implementation at Trustrace, Sandra Roos, vice president of sustainability at Kappahl, and Staffan Olsson, head of public affairs at GS1 Sweden. Listen to the full podcast episode here.

Reading list

• Learn more about Trace4Value here.

• I discovered The Win Without Pitching Manifesto somewhere in the endless sea of Instagram Reels. Useful for anyone selling thier services like an agency.

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