Burberry and IBM collaborate on blockchain initiative to boost fashion supply chain traceability

Many luxury fashion brands see digital technologies playing a role in creating more transparent and sustainable supply chains

The luxury fashion house partnered with IBM for its ‘Extreme Blue’ internship programme, providing its digital experts to collaborate with the interns.

During the scheme, IBM’s existing public cloud technologies and blockchain platform were deployed to create a tool that tracks the journey of products across the supply chain. The tool is called ‘Voyage’ and creates a tamper-proof trail of audit, collecting data at each point of the product’s journey and associating it with the product ID and tags.

Burberry successfully tested the tool’s functionality within its mobile app during the scheme. Voyage notably has an option to add more information about the stages in the product’s lifecycle which come after the point of purchase, including recycling, repair and upcycling. 

“We are delighted to have supported the interns in tackling this challenge, as cross-functional collaboration across industries is crucial to building a more sustainable future and inspiring the next generation of sustainably-minded innovators,” Burberry’s chief information officer Mark McClennon said.

Burberry’s sustainability strategy through to 2022 notably includes commitments to ensuring that every product has at least one positive environmental attribute; that all leather and cotton are sustainably sourced and that the lives of one million people in supply chain communities are improved. It is hoped that digital technologies like the new tool will help drive progress towards these ambitions. 

High-tech trend

Fashion supply chains are typically multinational and multi-tiered, making it complex for end-user businesses to track materials and products and to tackle the multitude of human rights and environmental risks present to the sector. This also brings challenges relating to communicating the suppl chain stories of garments with shoppers. 

Tech-based solutions centred around transparency have repeatedly been posed as a key component of emerging solutions. WWF and Google, for example, are currently collaborating on an environmental data platform for sourcing professionals in the fashion industry, providing them information on the pollution and emissions impact of their business decisions. The platform will be the next stage of a cloud-based tool first piloted by Stella McCartney.

C&A’s charitable arm, the C&A Foundation, is similarly working with geospatial technology firm Azavea to develop an open-source digital map of fashion supply chains. It is also part of a project with blockchain startup Bext360, the Organic Cotton Accelerator and Fashion For Good to use blockchain across PVH Corp and Kering’s supply chains.

Away from luxury fashion, M&S has produced an interactive digital map of its viscose supply chain.

Sarah George

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