The use of blockchain technology is an integral part of the shift in the fashion industry from a down-to-earth and slow-moving one to an early-reacting industry that uses disruptive technologies to meet the demands of the 21st century.
In view of the recent increase in consumer demands for transparency, several fashion companies are currently implementing procedures to enable efficient monitoring of the supply and distribution chains. By combining blockchain technology with physical RFID chips or QR codes, companies can track the various steps between procuring the raw materials required for a garment and distributing the garment to the end user. In addition, blockchains can be used to ensure that the process is carried out consistently in an ethical, sustainable and safe manner by monitoring the intermediaries.
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Blockchain technology can also be used to protect fashion companies’ intellectual property from misuse. That can boost consumer confidence because the risk of fraud and counterfeit products decreases. In order to ensure the availability of the information necessary to protect their designs, companies can demonstrate their ownership and manufacturing. For example, by recording their manufacturing processes in a blockchain. Additionally, distributed ledgers make it possible to track goods from retailers and consumers from the production phase through to the sale of second-hand goods.
Earlier this year, luxury goods conglomerate LVMH launched a blockchain platform to make it easier for consumers to authenticate luxury products . The ledger provides consumers with transparent product history information, including events in the design, production, sales, and transaction processes. Several Swedish brands like Filippa K and Asket have also started implementing blockchain technology in order to achieve complete transparency towards consumers.
In addition, smart contracts on blockchain platforms such as Ethereum can be used to automate the actions related to contractual obligations, provided the specified criteria are met. A smart contract can therefore be described as a software implementation of an underlying contract; with the advantage that the enforcement and execution of the contract can be made more effective.
Lots of potential, but also open questions
Despite the fact that there are still legal uncertainties surrounding blockchain technologies, authorities and courts have so far provided limited guidance. As such, blockchain technology is largely unregulated but subject to applicable legislation. While the acid test is still pending, blockchains could help provide convincing evidence in civil proceedings in the fashion industry, as the information stored on a blockchain can be considered secure and immutable.
In addition, it is still unclear how the current contract law will be applied to smart contracts. Failure to perform automated actions as part of a smart contract can lead to unforeseen challenges due to technical problems, for example. Can the debtor be held liable for non-execution of a payment if execution is beyond his control?
Despite the uncertainties, most companies in the fashion industry could arguably benefit from implementing blockchain technology. Significant upfront investments and the reorganization of largely functioning administrative processes can, however, represent the first hurdles when implementing new blockchain technologies.