Traceability trends: past, present, and future


Azul Stengel, Co-founder of Lienzo

Photo by Boba Jovanovic

One of the most pressing issues the fashion industry faces is transparency across its value chain. Due to the very nature of the product, the value chain is spread across the world, where sourcing, manufacturing, assembly and distribution are distributed throughout continents. It is then that traceability comes into play. However, traceability is not just about mapping the journey of the product through the globe, it is about identifying and managing the product’s impact. By understanding the product’s journey, companies can identify the main points regarding their social and environmental footprint.

According to the ISO 9001 standard, “Traceability is the ability to trace the history, application or location of an entity by means of recorded identifications”. Having a clear definition helps establish a system that can aid companies to create detailed databases and provide transparency across their production processes. It is then that looking at what the product is made of, where it was sourced from, and how it has moved between countries through the different manufacturing processes are key steps in measuring and evaluating how to reduce the garment’s impact.

While this might seem very daunting, there is a great value that this unlocks for companies. Traceability allows companies to easily track unauthorized subcontracting, and receive timely and credible information from worker representatives to ensure labour and human rights conditions. Furthermore, it can enhance brand trustworthiness and reputation, and provide a competitive advantage through the identification of inefficient processes and workflow improvements. Finally, having a clear vision of where the product comes from and how it interacts across the process will also help companies fulfil regulatory requirements and ensure compliance with international standards and legislation.

These drivers have also been fueled by growing awareness of the climate crisis from the general public and have been instrumental in getting companies to adopt transparency and traceability policies. Currently, consumers are actively demanding information on product impact and sustainability policies associated with reducing the environmental footprint of garments and enforcing socially responsible practices.

This trend originally started in 2015 with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, where the United Nations established extremely ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse emissions across the board. As a result, several regulations have been enforced across the UN. In 2020, the EU Taxonomy was brought into play as a classification system for sustainable activities. The aim of this classification system is to promote investment towards sustainable activities. Green Bonds and ESG commitments bloomed in the last couple of years as a result of a growing appetite for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) funds.

Today, the growing demand for transparency as well as the regulatory pressures have upped the stakes for companies to become more sustainable. The current trend revolves around reporting on environmental impact, the first step that allows companies to identify the biggest issues and create a sustainable strategy for the future. Another key trend is the reduction of waste. Currently, 4% of total global waste comes from the fashion industry. While circularity is a huge challenge, companies should take this into the design of the garments. As a result, zero-waste design is becoming more important, as well as repurposing deadstock, and scraps, changing to recycled fibers and designing patterns that create minimal fabric waste.

These strategies should also focus on re-evaluating the business model, as there should be a significant decrease in production to reduce GHG emissions. As such, customers should also change consumer trends, buying less and extending the life cycle of the products. On the other hand, companies should transform their values towards delivering higher quality and performance on their products.

The future will then bring standardization of data through regulatory requirements across the globe. Impact measurement and disclosure will lead to the re-evaluation of company strategies as a result of consumer demand. Textiles and materials will evolve to reduce their environmental impact as companies adopt sustainable policies. These long-term, strategic changes will drastically affect the way in which companies and consumers relate to fashion. As company culture evolves to meet the sustainability goals, garments will reflect these changes through their design, fabric and life cycle.