Fashion's Traceability Tech to Know Now

20 December 2022

Fashion for Good team

In this article

    There is a lot of exciting innovation happening in the tracer tech space, as Fashion for Good — a sustainable fashion accelerator — shared in the TrusTrace Traceability Playbook. Read on to discover FFG's insight into the future of traceability technology.

    Current methods of commodity and information exchange in the fashion supply chain don’t always provide adequate levels of verification beyond digital or manual exchanges of chain-of-custody documentation. Within certification schemes, chain-of-custody methods include verification at site and transaction level, but without physical verification of the fibers/ materials themselves.

    Widely incentivized by motivations to provide increased traceability confidence to fiber types and certifications, alongside incoming corporate legislation in sourcing regions (e.g. the U.S. Forced Labor Prevention Act and the incoming EU directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence), the demand to integrate tracer technologies into global fashion supply chains has risen at a fast pace.

    The ability to prove geographic and supply chain origins of sourced materials, and provide physical verification (in tandem with site and transactional documentation) are essential capabilities for supply chain traceability platforms to have. This integrative capacity with tracer technologies can strengthen sustainability claims, showcasing that being ‘tracer agnostic’ is a central feature of importance for traceability solutions looking forward.

    Tracer Sub-Categories

    Tracer technologies are made up of three sub-categories:

    Additive Tracers: These are physical additives which are applied to the fibers and materials on the supply chain floor, and detected later to prove origin.

    Forensic Tracers: Technologies that analyze the micro-particle and biochemical composition of fibers and materials in order to prove origin.

    Tags: Near Field Communication (NFC) and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are used more for commercial shipping and logistics. These are not focused on the upper stream supply chain but rather used on finished goods and downstream on shipping pallets and boxes.


    Both the Additive Tracer and Forensic Tracer sub-categories are used to trace and authenticate fibers and materials, proving supply chain and geographic origins. Forensic Tracers have off-site detection and no need for application of any substance or marking onto fibers, yarns, or materials. For the user, their implementation has less supply chain operational workload and burden. They are useful to facilitate ad-hoc “spot checking”, indicating with confidence that the fibers sourced meet desired sustainability criteria, and helping to red-flag questionable geographic sourcing areas (e.g. forced labor concerns). In addition, they are used to communicate the authenticity of premium and preferred sustainable fibers (e.g. organic supima cotton).

    With a smaller range of Tracer Technologies available in the Forensic Tracer category (compared with Additive Tracers), their usability focuses on transparency of first-mile origins of natural fibers, rather than physically and digitally tracking product flows in real-time throughout all tiers of the supply chain. Additive Tracers bear more supply chain operational work for implementation and maintenance, as they have on-site application and detection processes.

    Supplier engagement and management is a key prerequisite to enable the sound operational performance and logistical maintenance for Additive Tracers on the facility floor. They hold more flexibility for the user to provide traceability integrity based on wider supply chain operability and coverage for a larger scope of supply chain tiers and fiber types. As the title suggests, Additive Tracers are applied onto fibers and materials, existing physically within the fiber or material traced. This physical traceability 
 runs in parallel to digital traceability.

    Many of the Additive Tracer companies have their own proprietary IT system to facilitate data uploads and analysis from detection processes that ‘checkpoint’ the fiber or material through supply chain tiers, since the point of application. With a wider range tracer technologies available in the Additive Tracer category, their usability is more flexible, based on wider claimed supply chain operability and coverage. They hold a focus on physical tracing of fibers and materials, and the associated digital capabilities for data uploads, real-time tracking, and analysis. This allows for an innovative synchronization of the physical and digital traceability worlds.

    Benefits & Outcomes

    Overall Tracer Technologies have the capability to provide physical verification for fibers and materials in parallel with chain-of-custody traceability. This allows for:

    - Manufacturers, brands, and retailers to more confidently verify chain-of-custody claims, and consumer-facing sustainable product communication

    - Reduction of auditing and supply chain risk assessment through authorized relationships between tracer technologies, suppliers, brands, and certification bodies

    - The incentivization of suppliers and manufacturers to meet the criteria of sustainability standards and certification more rigorously, by identifying and flagging certificate counterfeiting.

    Conclusive Thoughts

    In the traceability innovation landscape, we have seen an increase in the number of innovators emerging in the Supply Chain Traceability Platform Space. This is due to the widespread motivations to digitize supply chain data across industries for supply chain management purposes: ESG improvements, supply chain risk assessment, inventory and capacity planning, and financial forecasting. On the contrary, 
there has been a smaller number of Tracer Technologies that have matured. This is mainly due to the delayed business case for physical/ material level traceability verification, and 
the greater difficulty implementing such technologies compared to improving 
digital traceability and inventory control.

    From Fashion for Good's perspective, in order for brands to achieve traceability excellence, three levels of verification need to be realized and maintained.

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


    ready to trace?

    Take control of your supply chain risk, compliance, and impact with the world’s leading traceability platform for fashion, footwear and textile supply chains. Start by speaking with the TrusTrace team today.