IBM | Author: Fabiana Fournier | 02.18.2021

IBM launches blockchain for high-end textile for transparency of the supply chain

Tracking every step ‘from sheep to shop’ with a single source of truth The high-end textile industry is anything but mass manufacturing. Be it cashmere, alpaca, or merino — it’s often custom made and woven into different textures, colors, and products. So how can companies track this supply chain to make sure all products and processes can be traced back to verify their role in the manufacturing process?

Enter blockchain. My team at IBM Research has developed a solution for the textile industry using the IBM Blockchain Transparent Supply (BTS) platform. It allows users to track the entire spectrum of fabric manufacturing, from the receipt of raw material through cleaning, spinning, weaving, quality assurance, distribution, and sales.

And companies are starting to use it. The Italian luxury textile manufacturer Piacenza is both a client and a partner in this initiative. The company supplies some of the world’s most famous fashion designers with exclusive textiles — with, as Carlo Piacenza, the company’s chief executive, tells me, “a high level of customization.”

IBM BTS initially gave authorized users immediate access to actionable food supply chain data, from farm to store, and ultimately the consumer. As part of the EU-funded Boost 4.0 project, we introduced BTS to the textile world as the new driver in the journey for luxury textiles as they go through the supply chain. We’ve applied blockchain to build a shared tamper-proof ledger that tracks how the fabric was manufactured from source to sales — including who, what, where, when, and under what conditions.

Tracking from sheep to shop

Being able to track and trace any part of the process allows all parties involved to document different steps in the design and manufacturing. It offers unalterable proof of creation in case of a dispute, preventing waste in production, or offering information on fair trade.

“For us, it’s imperative to provide our clients with very high quality and high level of innovation,”. Carlo Piacenza says. “The collaboration with IBM allows us to work together towards our goals – for complete traceability and to better preserve the environment.”

Just like other high-end textile manufacturers, almost every product at Piacenza involves over 70 processes and is unique in terms of raw material choice, style, and color. So for the company, maintaining an edge by ensuring aligned, transparent, and efficient supply chain at all levels is crucial. This is exactly what the team in Haifa managed to address with our blockchain solution.

Using BTS, Piacenza and other partners in the network can track and trace all aspects of the journey for their high-end fabrics – from sheep to shop. Brand owners who license their designs or trademarks can use blockchain technology to track sales and royalty payments, similar to the system already used in the music industry to track royalties.

And different parties in the supply chain can track the location of where different steps in the process took place to determine what kind of customs or tax discounts are available based on current incentives and regulations. This allows them to smoothly clear customs to save time and money since they don’t have to wait for documents. It also makes it possible to certify the origin and location of any part and document in the process.

Going beyond documentation, the blockchain solution can help businesses make sure their material has not been tampered with and was transported or stored according to required conditions. And, of course, it makes it much easier to share information with consumers on the origin of the product’s raw materials and the sustainability of the process.