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The use of blockchain technology in the circular fashion model as a viable alternative practice to fast fashion (Essay)

As the apparel market’s worth is predicted to reach $1.7 trillion in 2022 worldwide, the fast fashion industry, which is expected to grow from $91.23 billion in 2021 to $99.23 billion in 2022, is currently facing increased scrutiny for its socially and environmentally harmful supply chain. Amidst the global crisis, consumers and global action groups alike are demanding fundamental changes in the fashion business model. 

The need for viable alternative practices to fast fashion is, now, stronger than ever with consumers stating that they are willing to pay premium prices for products branded as sustainable or socially responsible. This shift in consumer behavior requires companies to “slow down” fast fashion through the deceleration of manufacturing and the implementation of sustainable practices throughout the supply chain. The circular fashion model ensures that clothing are crafted from safe and renewable materials with an emphasis on increasing their lifespan and circulating responsibly and effectively in society for as long as possible. But this model requires complete transparency throughout the supply chain.

This paper purports to assess the use of Blockchain technology in the circular fashion model as a viable alternative practice to fast fashion. 

The importance of transparency in sustainable fashion

Transparency is the single most important aspect of ethical fashion. Consumers want to be informed, but it’s not always to know the origin of the product and its environmental and social impact. The most important downside of the circular fashion model is that once an item of clothing is sold, there is virtually no way to monitor what happens with it. Also, secondhand customers might not be aware of how a garment can be returned safely to the biosphere when it’s no longer of use or the numerous disposal methods. 

The circular fashion economy promotes recycling clothes into new fibers to make new products, but repair and resale companies need to have accurate information about the materials used to mechanically and chemically recycle the items. Thus, a system of recording information in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to change, hack, or cheat the system is needed.

Blockchain technology as an alternative to fast fashion

 With the introduction of Blockchain, as the backbone of the Web3, which incorporates concepts such as decentralization and token-based economics companies can finally offer a viable alternative practice to fast fashion with garments that are fully traceable from the raw material down to the last owner of said piece of clothing.

Blockchain is an online public ledger that creates a permanent and accessible record of every stage of the supply chain. It’s responsible for storing every bit of information about all the transactions that happen in the network using encryption. By using these “Blocks” of information, a time-stamped record of the flow of physical products through the logistical network is created. Each part of the supply chain has its own token which cannot be altered after the submission.

Each block comes with a unique ID for recognition purposes and thus, it’s impossible to manipulate the results. Consequently, the use of blockchain technology can create a real-time flow of data of various information from different stages of production. Sustainable fashion companies can then share those details with customers in various different forms — RFID chips, QR codes, and more to ensure complete transparency.

Blockchain technology’s integrated into supply chains 

With blockchain technology, companies can trace raw materials back to specific suppliers. This includes sustainability certifications, ethical work environments, fair wages, raw materials, sourcing, recyclability, and more. This information allows unlimited access to this “digital diary” and can be reviewed by every consumer.

In 2017 the London-based designer, Martine Jarlgaard created a single digital token for every piece of clothing she manufactured. Through this innovative process, full details were freely displayed to the public from the origin of her materials up to the sale point. All customers could scan a unique QR code or NFC-enabled label. Near Field Communication technology allows users to make secure transactions, exchange digital content, and connect electronic devices with a touch. This way, customers can be presented with a list of information about the specific item of clothing. By tracking every “event” in a clothing’s life cycle, customers are 100% certain of the brand’s sustainability and transparency efforts. 

Blockchain technology in circular fashion

Circular items are “those that operate within the circular economy model i.e. those products that have reduced or completely no need for virgin resources and are designed with the end of their life in mind.” Additionally, circular fashion embraces the principles of reselling and repurposing clothing in the name of sustainability. With blockchain technology, firsthand, secondhand, thirdhand and fourthhand customers can access records of an item’s production and purchase history.

During the annual Preloved Pop-Up, LUXARITY, for example, luxury fashion customers managed to purchase an array of gently used luxury products without having to worry about their authenticity. Each item is tagged with a unique QR code. As soon as this code got scanned, all the background information including its previous owner, environmental impact, the manufacturing and sourcing process, etc was visible.

Even better, each new owner could also access a digital note from the first owner of the item they purchased pre-loved, which makes the whole customer experience a lot more transparent. Due to the information available, new owners can be aware of the recycling options available to them or detailed descriptions of how to care for their new garments to last longer which will ultimately help end-of-life initiatives as well.

Conclusion

Blockchain in the textile industry can assist in the adoption of the circular fashion business model, which is a viable alternative practice to fast fashion. This extra layer of transparency and authenticity not only allows customers to access all necessary information about a garment’s life but also helps the garment’s circulation for as long as its maximum value is retained. 

Through closely monitoring the entire supply chain and recycling, upcycling, reusing, and remanufacturing of textiles, companies can ensure ethical production, fair wages for the workers, zero wastage, and low carbon footprints. And while blockchain technology as a part of the circular business model is an energy-intensive proof-of-work process, it is a viable option with the best chance of being successful both in terms of sustainability and being readily adopted by big and small brands alike. 

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