H&M’s COS, New Look, and Next, IBM in Blockchain Textile Traceability Project

The UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) launched a blockchain traceability project, partnering with IBM and retailers including H&M (COS Brand), Next, and New Look.

The nine-month sustainability project aims to develop and pilot a supply chain traceability solution for the UK fashion industry and is financially supported by Innovate UK to the tune of £1.4 million ($2m). The global fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters. Data firm Quantis estimates that apparel makes up 6.7% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, rising to 8% when footwear is included. That’s almost four times the estimated emissions from the airline sector. 

Consumers want to understand the environmental impact of their purchasing behavior, particularly in an industry that has received widespread criticism over unsafe workplaces, labor abuses, and low wages. The issues come down to a lack of transparency. Visibility across different stages of the supply chain is often opaque, and high levels of manual effort mean that parties have little incentive or the means to share data. This means organizations delay implementing more responsible practices and prevent consumers from shopping more sustainably.

“Working together, we are pleased to support the development of a new supply chain platform tool for the apparel and textiles sector, to facilitate the gathering of robust sustainability data and provide clear visibility of environmental and ethical impacts to empower better decisions,” said Joanne Poynor, Head of Sustainable Development at Next.

The new platform will use IBM’s blockchain technology to share information about the clothing products – such as place and date of production, product composition, and environment-related certificates – accessible to consumers via a QR code.

Key supply chain processes will be digitised, creating a shared system of data that different parties can access. This will all be stored on IBM Cloud, which will also use AI technology for optimization and to detect and respond to supply chain disruption. Other retailers participating in the pilot include N Brown and yarn manufacturer Laxtons. Last year, IBM partnered with German workwear company KAYA&KATO to trace sustainable clothing using blockchain.

Meanwhile, this year, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol partnered with TextileGenesis to track and trace cotton fiber on its blockchain platform, with leading brands such as Gap and Next using the Trust Protocol.