How blockchain can be used in fashion

It’s not just bitcoin. Fashion is starting to come around to the use of blockchain, the public ledger technology best known for underpinning bitcoin.

At Shanghai Fashion Week this week, indie fashion label Babyghost debuted a demonstration of the tech as it can be used in fashion. To showcase its Spring and Summer 2017 collection, Babyghost worked with BitSe and VeChain, a blockchain platform. So the collection could be “verified” on the blockchain to fulfill a bunch of possibilities, including counterfeiting, supply chain management, asset management and how a customer “experiences” the product itself. Babyghost and VeChain used NFC to verify information by using a phone to scan a QR code. The chip inside the clothing can tell the story of the product to whoever is scanning.

A blockchain is an open, shared database. What makes it unique is that it doesn’t need an operator or a central function. It’s decentralized, but also distributed, operating in a network format with multiple bits of information added along the way. That means information can be transmitted through huge networks — for example, supply chains — and be added to by users on those networks without compromising security. Users also can’t change the information that was added, because everyone can watch them do it. And no one person can take down the network.

Babyghost showed off 20 items, each one with its own “story” to tell. For Shanghai Fashion Week, customers would find a story about who modeled the piece in New York. And 80 handbags with unique VeChain IDs also told “stories” when tagged.

“Imagine that each garment now goes from being one of many to a one of a kind. It can literally speak to our fans similarly to the way that we love communicating with them via social media,” Babyghost cofounders Qioran Huang and Joshua Hupper told FashNerd. “What VeChain has done with Babyghost is bring digital experiences to their consumers and enable them to build up a personalized connection with the products they own.”

“There are few technical barriers,” said Alex Tapscott, co-author of Blockchain Revolution. “Blockchain has proved itself robust and adaptable to dozens of high-impact use-cases.” The challenges are more on the side of the brands: “Companies need to develop compelling enough applications that it can make a real impact. This is already happening.”

Anti-counterfeiting is the most obvious, and easy to use implementation. For fashion brands worried about proving authenticity, blockchain can help.”If the materials used in, say, a Louis Vuitton handbag were tagged with RFID technology at their origin in the factory and that data stored on an immutable shared ledger where it could be tracked through a supply chain, consumers could buy with confidence knowing the goods were legitimate,” said Tapscott. In 2016, a host of startups have sprung up that aim to bring transparency into luxury goods. Blockchain Tech and Chronicled, for example, both offer registries that let people track where a product has been to ensure its authenticity. For resellers, this could also be an opportunity to regulate their own businesses.

There’s also a marketing side-effect. As Babyghost did, blockchain can be used to “tell stories” about products as advertising. So when you scan, say, a collectible sneaker you not only get information on whether it’s real, you could also get information on who wore it before you, especially if it was a celebrity. (There’s also more far-out consequences: As FashionREDEF curator HK Mindy Meissen put forth as a possible scenario: “Would [blockchain] be used in virtual reality to introduce scarcity for digital garments and accessories?”)

Another place would be in sustainability practices. If every piece of data can be tracked back to provenance, it is possible to unlock that “story” of the product’s journey to expose supply chain practices. That would mean tracking where the materials were farmed, where clothing was bleached (using what types of chemicals), what factories they were made in (and matched against factory lists) and so on. Provenance, a startup, uses blockchain already to tell you where the products you are using and wearing come from. Writing in Business of Fashion, Jutta Steiner, COO at Provenance, said that blockchains can bring transparency to supply chains and on the governmental level, let them request information from even distant suppliers. “Indeed, blockchains will entirely change the game for certifying, tracking and tracing the origin of our goods,” she wrote.

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