Let’s give fashion buyers the tech tools they need to shop responsibly
By Jake Hanover, director, digital solutions, Apparel Solutions, Avery Dennison
A greenwashing crackdown is taking place across the fashion industry, as regulators figure out the best way to address misleading environmental product claims. Consumers need to know if an ‘eco-range’ of garments is being shipped thousands of miles from poorly-run factories in less regulated parts of the world, or if polyester products described as ‘recycled’ cannot be reused again at end of life. Sadly, not all eco-innovations are as green as they claim. Garment labels and hang tags stating ‘recycled material’ or ‘low carbon’ are too simplistic and opaque.
Supply chain transparency and full disclosure of how and where t-shirts, footwear, and dresses are made will allow shoppers to make informed decisions, and act responsibly to prolong the lives of the items they buy. Providing details of the complex material composition of apparel will also help industrial textile recyclers carry out their processes – a key part of the circular economy the world aspires to. This is why digital trigger technology on garments, such as QR codes on labels or NFC (near field communication) or RFID tags embedded in items, is big news in fashion right now. If scannable triggers on garments can give instant access to data-rich information stored online, shoppers and regulators can get to the truth.
Sustainability laws are landing
New eco-laws are making product and supply chain transparency mandatory – most notably in France from January 2023 with its AGEC waste-reducing legislation. The French government is hoping to force retailers to phase out single-use plastic packaging by 2040; eliminate waste by encouraging reuse; and tackle planned obsolescence. Their legislation also aims to promote a better resource management system from the design stage to the recovery of materials; and provide more transparent information to consumers about clothes and household goods.
A Digital Product Passport, as defined by the EU, is “an environmental policy instrument that aims to improve product circularity by utilising the power of digital to collect, organise, and store information in a secure way”. To prepare for a future when supply chain visibility will be legally-required, fashion brands are beginning to adopt DPPs which hold raw material and provenance data on individual products that can be shared across entire value chains. The aim is that stakeholders, including consumers, will have a better understanding of the products they use, and their environmental impact.
Avery Dennison’s clients are making headway towards more industry transparency by including Digital Care Labels in garments and other triggers that link to web pages and apps. This is an ideal first step towards collecting, digitising and storing supply chain data, to be in a strong position for when DPPs become a legal requirement. Simply by scanning QR codes on care labels with a smartphone, consumers, regulators, sorters, and recyclers, can access a wealth of product and supply chain information.
Brands investing in this technology want to become compliant, but they are also eager to unlock other possibilities. The data to digitise these care labels already exists within the API feed given by brands to the label manufacturers. By simply digitising care labels and collating and storing supply chain data in the cloud, brands and factories can future proof many other elements of their businesses. Value-added benefits include process digitisation, supply chain efficiencies, transparency, consumer-facing storytelling, and brand protection.
However, brands won’t be able to automatically ‘switch on’ DPPs. It’s going to be a journey, with significant reporting and data collecting processes in the manufacturing and supply chain. Committing to putting a digital trigger on board a piece of apparel will set the wheels of change in motion.
Consumers crave the tools for green shopping
Are shoppers ready to start using this tech as they scour shops for sustainably produced clothes? Our latest research confirms they are.
Avery Dennison and GWI’s Digital Consumer Behaviour Report 2023 (for which 6,300 global clothing shoppers were surveyed) reveals how shoppers are highly receptive to frictionless touchpoints that will enhance their in-store experience. They want the convenience of mobile checkouts and digital receipts. They’re also interested in scanning digital labels on garments, making use of QR codes, RFID, and NFC technology, for product insight and interaction with brands pre-and post-purchase.
For instance, 60% of fashion shoppers globally see the value in scanning a QR code on a garment with their smartphone to understand proper care. Further, 71% of respondents globally state fashion brands being transparent about their manufacturing practices is important to them.
Attitudes vary by location, the survey revealed. We found that fashion shoppers in China and Japan are most receptive to digital triggers, while those in Mexico, Europe, and the US are more sceptical, but gaining acceptance rapidly. Across all locations, younger groups are more likely to be confident with digital tools than older groups, especially those aged 16-24.
Meanwhile, there is a strong agreement in the fashion industry that DPPs hold numerous benefits beyond compliance with new laws. The DPP legislation will be the catalyst to create genuine foundational change and create dynamic opportunities for forward thinking brands and leaders. Firstly, the DPP will provide reliable and comparable product information for businesses, consumers, recyclers, and policymakers which could open new business models and opportunities. For instance, repair, upcycling, and resale can be more effectively managed with reliable data to hand.
Secondly, enhanced transparency and cooperation in the supply chain can lead to improvements such as better practices, new circular designs, and collaborations.
Finally, the DPP could encourage re-use, repair, and recyclability by providing more information on how a specific product can be cared for and recycled. Providing advice and verified information speaks to consumers’ values and in the age of greenwashing, this is a surefire way to build brand loyalty and trust.
Supply chain visibility will close the circularity loop
With DPPs set up for garments, brands can enable consumers to make better-informed decisions when buying a product, using stored data to prolong its life. Once retailers and their customers are sharing the ‘stewardship’ responsibilities of the afterlife of a garment, closer bonds will form. Brands are envisaging schemes where takeback of garments can be rewarded with e-vouchers and loyalty points to benefit and incentivise customers. For instance, River Island’s takeback scheme promises rewards for ‘giving old clothes a new home’. Luxury brands from Tommy Hilfiger to Mulberry are already tapping into the resale and repair trends, and generating new revenue streams by doing so.
Global fashion brands are getting serious about textile recycling technology too. Zara and Circ’s groundbreaking initiative aims to separate polyester and cotton fibres in order to facilitate garment recycling and propose an alternative to their end-of-life cycle. The goal of the two companies is to “develop new recycled raw materials for the manufacturing of new garments.” Avery Dennison recently invested in Circ, and we are proud to be supporting ground-breaking innovators like this – making fashion circularity a reality.
I am convinced that having item-level lifecycle data readily available for apparel products will completely transform a fashion brand’s supply chain visibility. It will help shoppers make the right decisions when shopping. It will give recyclers the vital data to sort and process textiles at scale. Yet while there is undoubtedly a paradigm shift in consumer awareness for social and environmental change, there is work to be done by those who lack the data to share accurate and actionable information about their products and second-life opportunities.
This is fashion’s challenge. Greening the industry will require much collaboration between brands and their long tail of suppliers. But once the data is gathered, and the technology harnessed, we can begin to close the circularity loop and halt the industry’s regrettable cycle of over-production and waste.