The three levels of Traceability


Alberto Bailin Co-founder of Lienzo

Photo by time Mossholder

Traceability is the ability to trace the history, application or location of an entity by means of recorded identifications and is key to shed light on transparency in the fashion industry.

This week, our goal is to provide an overview of how to achieve sustainability goals by understanding the different methods for tracing your supply chain.

It is important to highlight that every fashion business would have a unique traceability journey, as each of these entities would have their own specific ambitions and commitments. The objective of this article is to clearly differentiate between the levels of traceability across the supply chain. We have identified three distinct but interrelated segments: the supplier, the product and the materials. In the following paragraphs we will go deeper into each of these levels, understanding which are the fundamentals that companies have to take into account to achieve their sustainable objectives, as well as the challenges and limitations they might encounter.

Supplier Mapping

Supplier mapping is a good starting point for transparency efforts, mainly because it helps to comply with due diligence laws around the social and environmental impact of your supply chain. In order to gather this information, fashion entities should be responsible for gathering all supplier’s information in one place, identifying, monitoring and analysing supply chain risks across tiers to ensure sustainability standards are met, keeping track and collecting audits & certifications as well as create scorecards and perform due diligence according to ESG requirements. The question that undeniably comes to mind is, how can fashion businesses do this?

Supplier mapping is achieved by asking your direct suppliers to provide information about their suppliers, who in turn should be responsible for asking their suppliers, and so on and so forth. This process should continue until the tier where raw materials are sourced is achieved. There are different pieces of information that should be collected during this process: suppliers and facility details across all tiers, social data about these, social, environmental and material-related certifications, as well as due diligence assessments related to ESG reporting. This is a tricky process as it requires a high level of trust and cooperation from all suppliers involved in the supply chain to provide information. However, in the years to come, this information will have to be disclosed, so it is in the interest of all parties involved to be transparent. If one of the parties is not transparent enough, perhaps the best option is to find a supplier that is more trustworthy, is at a shorter distance or has different certifications that would ensure a sustainable outcome.

Product Traceability

For a deeper understanding of your supply chain, we encourage fashion entities to do the supplier mapping in conjunction with product traceability. The fundamentals of product traceability include an understanding of the product journey, of the supplier’s particular products as well as proof of the authenticity of products. In order words, product traceability is the retrospective view of how your products were realized from raw materials to finished goods and is typically traced from the finished product backwards. This will allow fashion companies to identify exactly what the supply chain looks like for their products, tying the evidence from the suppliers to the product itself.

Product traceability is achieved through a similar methodology as the one we explained earlier for supplier mapping. It can be represented as a tree of information, containing the product at the top and branches that represent every supplier that has contributed to the production. As seen with supplier mapping, product traceability also presents some challenges and limitations. Cooperation and trust all along the supply chain are crucial to achieving the sustainable goals of any fashion company selling the finished goods. Furthermore, product traceability does not give detailed information about the content of the products. This is why traceability cannot be conceived without the third level, material traceability.

Material Traceability

Material traceability goes beyond supplier mapping or product traceability and includes information on the contents of your products, diving deep into supply chains where raw materials are sourced. This level of traceability allows fashion entities to make claims about specific materials on a product-by-product basis, with a chain of custody (CoC (1)) to prove it. This level is key for complying with the existing regulations as it will allow companies to prove their claims and commitments toward sustainability.

To achieve material traceability, fashion brands must again collaborate with suppliers to document all of the materials that go into the final product through the manufacturing processes, along with reports and declarations that substantiate claims at each of the different steps.

In conclusion, our recommendation for all entities working in the fashion industry is to set objectives that correspond to the objectives set by the existing regulations and those to come. Equally, all parties involved in the production process must be carefully chosen as a collaboration between them and trust is the key to a successful transformation towards sustainability.

(1) ​​A process that tracks the movement of evidence through its collection, safeguarding, and analysis lifecycle by documenting each person who handled the evidence, the date/time it was collected or transferred, and the purpose for the transfer.