Episode 80: Traceability in fashion is complicated, here are the two methods making it simpler




  • The power of independent retail and creativity in trade shows
  • The panel discussion on sustainability
  • Importance of traceability for brands
  • Technologies enabling traceability
  • Forensic analysis involving biochemical compositions and DNA structures
  • Additive tracers applied during fibre processing stages


Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed Podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host, Belinda Humphrey, and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet, and product.

Welcome to episode 80 of the Fashion Unearthed Podcast. My name's Belinda Humphrey, I'm your host, and I just wanted to give a big shoutout to everyone who came to Life Instyle and the Reed Gift Fairs where I was speaking on sustainability. It was so great to get out and about and I guess chat with like-minded individuals. I think when you go to these trade shows, you see the power of independent retail. They just bring something so special to the shopping experience. Some of the stands at the Reed Gift Fairs were like absolute mini stores. It just blew me away. It's always lovely to get out and talk to people and just see how creative so many businesses are. It's just a totally different vibe. It's energizing.

The panel I was speaking on was about sustainability, and within the conversation it came up, there was a question around what's the big movements within sustainability. There are probably three that come to mind, but the first one I wanted to talk about today was traceability. It's a big theme that's happening throughout sustainability, whether that's in fashion or food or markets. Today I wanted to talk about some of the key technologies that are enabling better traceability for brands and businesses. But let's start with a little bit of background. Why is traceability such a big theme or a hot topic on so many business lists? Firstly, brands need to go beyond manufacturing. If you followed along for a while, you'll know that I've got a track your supply chain, a free little sheet on my website, and it goes through all four different tiers of manufacturing, particularly in fashion.

A lot of brands only can get down to tier one. To be able to respond to the growing need from consumers about where everything is coming from, they need to know that. With globalization and the way that bigger businesses operate, that's often a complicated task. That's one of the key drivers. The other one is that the only way to not be pursued for greenwashing is evidence. We're seeing from the ACCC in Australia that that is a key part of what they're recommending for brands to follow, is for any claims that they make to be able to back them up with evidence. That's been followed up most recently with the UN's guide to how to communicate marketing as well. They have come out with clear guidelines on how to communicate your sustainability messages. To be able to back up any of those claims and follow those guidelines, you actually need the evidence.

Another reason why brands are going after the traceability element is that they want to protect themselves from supply chain fraud. If you've been in this space for a while, you would've heard some reports about the GOTS cotton fraud within India and conventional cotton being passed off as GOTS or organic cotton. Also, there are other claims and studies that are coming out as well to say that a lot of recycled polyesters, virgin polyester. We know that to get those certified or better quality or more sustainable fabrics, they always come at a higher price. Brands want to make sure that they're getting what they're paid for. Another reason that brands are pursuing traceability more and have put it towards the top of their to-do list, is impending regulation, particularly in the US. They're looking at a bill to be able to have brands be liable if any of their product comes in that using Xinjiang Cotton that is produced using forced labour from an ethnic minority in China, the Uyghurs.

You can see there are a lot of different things that are making it important and pushing this to the top of the list for brands to understand and trace their product. What are some of those technologies? There are a few different companies offering traceability, but across the board, they generally boil down to two different methods to be able to trace a product. The first one is more of a forensic tracer, it involves the analysis of a product. That goes down into biochemical compositions of the fibres, DNA structures, and scientific analysis of a fibre. This originated within the food industry, they were trying to prove where something was from or the provenance of something it's very CSI, isn't it? That's the first one is where they can take a sample and because of its DNA and the makeup of that product, they can tell where it's been grown because of the water that's been used and where that water is located and the soil.

They go down into the nitty gritty. That's the first one is more of a forensic tracer. The second one is more of an additive tracer. This is something that's added through the process or the fibre processing stages. It can be an application of a tracer substance to fibres or very early in the processing stage in the ginning stage. It can be continually tracked along the whole stage or process of having it made into fabric and finally into garments. Those additives are very small. They're often very minute particles. I've seen other companies using a spray technique or liquid ink, and you wouldn't notice them within the fabric or within the product. In terms of declaring it on a care label like it's that minute, it wouldn't have to be declared on a care label.

Throughout the whole process, there's these scanners, and UV light detectors that'll tell you what's showing up in that product or in that fibre. They're the two groups that companies are broadly using. The first one is a forensic analysis of a material, and the second one is an additive that gets put into the material and then tracked along the way and traced along the way. I'm hopeful that this technology can move forward not only in sustainability but in the ethical manufacturing process as well because if we can trace where the products come from, we can also trace who's been involved in that product. Which brings us to the end of today's episode. If you do want to check out any links or things that I've mentioned, the show notes are on the website, belindahumphrey.com in the podcast section. If you are interested in staying up to date in sustainable fashion, make sure you are signed up for my fortnightly newsletter, and you can do that at the website as well, belindahumphrey.com. Thanks so much for reading. See you next time. 

Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch head over to belindahumphrey.com or you can find me on Instagram @belindahumphrey 

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change. 


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