If you are coming to blockchains anew, explaining them as a widely distributed database that securely maintains a growing record of information in an open decentralised system may not clear things up. Think of the data on a widget moving through the supply chain: each new piece of information about its manufacture is recorded in blocks, and once the block is complete it attaches to the chain in a linear, chronological order to form part of a permanent database. The technology was conceived years ago and serves to underpin the digital currency bitcoin.

In 2016 blockchaining has found a place in fashion and retail where it is serving a two-fold purpose, as a platform and as a solution.

Fashion and retail platform

As fashion designers offer the next new thing, blockchaining provides a platform to do so on a digital scale. During Shanghai Fashion Week, the founders of label babyghost collaborated with tech firm BitSE to apply VeChain, its blockchain platform, by inserting near-field communication (NFC) chips into their Spring and Summer 2017 collection. A simple scan of the garments with a smartphone unveils a range of images, videos and personalised information that tells the story of each article of clothing. What did it look like on the runway? How was it made? Such fashion–tech collaboration elevates the consumer experience as it allows buyers to interact with garments beyond just wearing them; a sort of personalised connection is formed with the item.

A solution for retail

Because blockchaining allows for authentication of a product’s origins, consumers can avoid falling victim to counterfeiting, and brands can protect their profits from the estimated $2 trillion worldwide counterfeit market. Silicon Valley’s Chronicled combines blockchain technology with smart tags on high-end sneakers to combat replica paper tags.

Knowing where clothes come from is part of the technology’s promise. When opaque supply chain information is replaced by transparency, as advocated for ethical reasons by the likes of UK-based blockchain experts Provenance, you get a more just world. Such transparency owes a debt to decentralised blockchain systems, where authenticity and product information cannot be tampered with by hackers – or at least everyone can see what is being altered. The tracking, tracing and verification of the blockchain gives control back to consumers, brands and resellers.

Comment

Blockchaining’s spot in the top eight out of one hundred and fifty technologies that PwC recommends to boost businesses’ fortunes provides grounds to believe that its appearance in fashion and retail is only the beginning. Imagine a two-tiered system of goods where we distinguish between who is wearing counterfeit outfits and who is wearing the real thing.