The Three Levels of Traceability — Step Three: Material Traceability

The Three Levels of Traceability — Step Three: Material Traceability
Material Traceability goes beyond basic supplier or product traceability and is concerned with the contents of your products, diving deep into your supply chains where raw materials are sourced. Read on to learn more about material-level traceability. 

The Basics

- Substantiate claims about the material composition in your product

- Verify the weight-based material composition of your products

- Understand the waste that occurs in your production

- Verify that you received what you ordered and that the items deliver on the Bill of Material (BoM) from the product Purchase Order (PO)


While brands are transforming their sourcing strategies to include more sustainably produced materials and making claims about it to the market, there is still a significant gap in backing up these efforts with data. Currently, brands rely on standards and certification bodies, but standards and certificates do not cover all materials. Because a large number of suppliers have not yet adopted them, the certificate chain is not always present until the finished product. Material traceability helps solve this challenge by providing direct control of the materials that are sourced and building a CoC that provides assurance for the claims you are making.


Material Traceability goes beyond basic supplier or product traceability and is concerned with the contents of your products, diving deep into your supply chains where raw materials are sourced. It’s based on the Fiber forward model which means that you’re able to make claims about the specific material content on a product-by-product basis, with the chain of custody to prove it.

If your business has made commitments to science-based targets, such as switching to 100% recycled polyester or increasing the number of sustainable materials used across your product offering, you will need to achieve Material Traceability. Compliance is a major driver in embracing Material Traceability because it gives you the ability to prove material claims and comply with regulatory requirements.

Fiber-forward traceability refers to tracing a product from the raw material to the final product. As the material Lot moves up the value chain, each handler is proactively recording critical details about the Lot and its associated claims. These details are passed onto the next tier, forming a chain of custody. As the data is registered when the movement of materials happens, it is more accurate and verified than the retrospective data of product traceability, and it is readily available together with the final product. Any external disruptions or changes to the suppliers and materials will be registered in real-time and brands can act before the product reaches them. Fiber-forward traceability is especially suitable for multi-component products, such as trainers, which could otherwise be cumbersome to trace backward from the finished good.

Chain of Custody Models

To implement Fiber forward traceability, brands should choose the right Chain of Custody model based on the specificity of the claim being made. A simple definition of Chain of Custody is the chronological record of a products origin, components, processes and handlers throughout its lifecycle. In fashion supply chains, Product Segregation and Mass Balance are two frequently used Chain of Custody models. Product segregation means that the certified raw material is physically separated from non-certified materials throughout the whole supply chain, which makes this a more accurate approach than Mass Balance, where the certified and non-certified materials can be mixed along the supply chain.

Even though Product Segregation is the more accurate option, Mass Balance is less complex to implement, and brands might choose to use both models, depending on their ambitions. For more specific product claims such as “this product contains 40% recycled material”, you want to ensure that the content of that particular product is exactly 40% recycled material. Using Mass Balance, you would only be able to claim something along the lines of “This brand uses 40% materials from recycled sources.”


To achieve Material Traceability, brands must collaborate with suppliers to document all of the materials that go into a product through the manufacturing process, along with reports and declarations that substantiate claims at each step.

For example, if you want to make a material-specific claim related to leather, saying “This product uses leather that is chrome-free” the leather tanner must provide a facility certificate confirming that they are not using chrome, as well as a quality report for the batch of leather getting shipped downstream which confirms that the leather is chrome-free. This must be linked with the finished product to make the claim. To achieve this, downstream suppliers should record the usage of the specific chrome-free leather at every step till the finished product.

Fiber forward traceability that uses the Product Segregation CoC model provides you with data on each batch, which is available when you need to substantiate claims for sales and marketing, or prove a batch’s compliance with regulations when it goes through customs and into the market.

Achieving Material Traceability requires some level of tech maturity because, in order to gather millions of data points, you need a system that can process this amount of information. To make the process smoother, we recommend having all the data on the product style, material and PO available in a PLM or an ERP system.

Challenges and Limitations

As Material Traceability requires collaboration with suppliers to document the materials going into the manufacturing process of a product, brands need to have a direct relationship and ability to communicate with their suppliers through all the tiers they want to trace. If a brand is one out of many customers of a supplier, it may require collaborating with other brands who source the same materials from the same supplier, to reach a critical mass that will make it worthwhile for that supplier to engage in Material Traceability.

While digital traceability systems provide the CoC data at a digital level, technologies that trace the physical product, as covered earlier in the playbook, are also critical to get more accurate results. The best approach will be to combine several sources of data and knowledge. Ultimately, the more accurate, verified data that can be gathered on the full value chains of products and materials, the better-equipped fashion businesses will be to take meaningful action and accelerate sustainable transformation.

To read more insights from the TrusTrace Traceability Playbook for Fashion Supply Chains, click here. To read our Glossary of Traceability Terms, click here


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