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How can clothing brands and ethicality profit from RFID?

This article takes a look at the ethical issues in clothing business and the role of RFID in monitoring the manufacturing process. RFID can be a great tool in supervising the production and other issues that may have an impact on a product's ethicality.

The awareness of ethicality in clothing business is increasingly raising its head among consumers and retailers. Simultaneously, affordable clothing brands enter new market areas as their customers are constantly asking for new ideas. How can we be sure of the origin of our clothes, and how can RFID help in monitoring and sharing information of their ethicality?

An ordinary garment manufacturing process in Western countries seems to follow this pattern - a garment is designed, the fabric manufactured and printed, the garment becomes sewed and shipped to a retail store, where it becomes sold to the end customer. As can be noticed, producing a garment from a blueprint to a point-of-sale is a complex journey, but the garment-to-be can still be comprehensively tracked. But by being able to brand the garment as ethical, it needs to pass certain criteria defined by some monitoring authorities.

Sewing Care Label

Ethicality from a retailer's perspective

To find out what ethicality means for a consumer, we contacted Kesko, the largest retailer chain in Finland, and two Finnish non-profit fashion business organizations. According to Kesko, being aware of the origin of a garment and production circumstances has become a raising trend among consumers. In addition, Tuula Loikkanen, CEO of Muotikaupan Liitto ry (Union for Fashion Trade in Finland), states that as ethicality means different things for different individuals, it is problematic to commonly define an ethical product. Veli-Matti Kankaanpää, CEO of Tekstiili- ja Muotialat TMA ry (Textile and Fashion Suppliers and Retailers Finland), confirms this too by explaining that consumers often mix the terms ethical and ecological as very rare brands advertise their products' ethicality.

Moreover, Kesko states that customers are more and more interested in the ethical issues considering the origin of the garment and production circumstances, which in turn brings pressure for the company to be able to find answers for such questions. Loikkanen confirms this trend by adding that even the ordinary sales people are continuously asked about the garment's origins and manufacturing circumstances - here is where RFID could step in.

Tracking and monitoring ethicality in clothing industry

RFID is a technology, which enables product identification. The RFID tag can be assisted with several types of information like the garment origin, and the garment can be tracked along the whole supply chain. From a customer's perspective ethicality is more or less an investigation of the garment's origins and the manufacturing process. RFID can help keeping track of all the supply chain parties, from the producer to the end customer and make sure that a garment is ethically produced. Moreover, an RFID tag can help in collecting information about the product's life cycle and - in the end - show the customer that the garment is not produced for example by child labour.

The monitoring of product's ethicality is implemented in various ways in the clothing sector. A common practice for monitoring is the BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative), which is an initiative for companies who are committed to improving working conditions in manufacturing faculties. In addition to BSCI, there are other initiatives, standards and tools which make the monitoring variegated. Kesko, a forerunner in corporate social responsibility (CSR), monitors its subcontractors very carefully. When purchasing items from suppliers, Kesko evaluates both the product and the supplier as a quantity where corporate social responsibility is a crucial criterion beside others.

Ethical _clothing 

RFID stepping in

A suggestion for RFID implementation is to commit the monitoring initiatives and groups. If an initiative requires that a garment needs to carry an RFID tag all the way from fabric manufacturing to the retail store, the brand owners would be more open for RFID implementation as they would get support from the initiatives and other brand owners.

Both Loikkanen and Kankaanpää recognize the need for RFID and agree that implementation today is an issue of cost as clothing business involves large volumes. Loikkanen continues that although the garment states 'made in Hong Kong', it does not inevitably mean that it would be 100% produced there. An RFID tag would take the level of product information even further, and at least the consumers in Europe would be willing to pay for this kind of information when selecting ethically produced garments. Kankaanpää estimates that in CSR monitoring the RFID technology would be very beneficial and the use cases will accumulate in near future.

Finally - how would this appear to the consumers and brand owners? The RFID tag shows information on how and where the garment was produced, which can be directed to the consumer with the help of salespeople or kiosk applications. This way the ethicality can be confirmed by all the supply chain parties including the brand owner, and the brand may proudly carry the title of being ethical.

Profiles For Ethical _article 

Left: Tuula Loikkanen. Right: Veli-Matti Kankaanpää.

 

2 comments on “How can clothing brands and ethicality profit from RFID?”

  1. Gravatar of prasanthprasanth
    Posted 09 March 2015 at 12:02:13

    i would like to know more on RFID . i am in garment industry in india

  2. Posted 10 September 2015 at 15:39:12

    Asset tracking systems provide an automated solution for company that need to efficiently track fixed assets, equipment and many more. Thanks For sharing nice post

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