Fashion and Blockchain. Can they navigate side-by-side in the same galaxy?


It is very likely, if not obvious, that everyone would prefer a sustainable product over an unsustainable one, ceteris paribus (let’s forget about prices and all those factors which might affect the decision). However, it is unlikely that consumers would be willing to put excessive effort in tracking whether a product has been made as sustainably as it prides itself.

People tend to trust the information they are first given too much and tend to not verify it. But, all in all, how can we blame this kind of behaviour? As the “anchoring effect” teaches us, this kind of behaviour belongs to human nature. We tend to takes things for granted, even if they are not .  This psychological reaction tells us that when it comes to the decision-making process, we tend to consider just a small slice of all the available information. In our defence, it is worth saying that it is not that easy to track on the actual “sustainability” of products since this kind of information might not be available or might simply be distorted by brands. In Russia, there is a very concise, but extremely effective proverb that says "Trust, but verify" and the good news is that from now on for each of us it might become easier to verify information related to products’ origin and sustainability.

Let's consider products forged by the fashion industry. This industry, according to Business Insider, represents a big threat for sustainability as it “produces 10% of all humanity's carbon emissions” and it is “the second-largest consumer of the world's water supply […], polluting the oceans with microplastic”. Some of us at this point might be confused. How often do we read fashion companies' mission statement declaring to "improve living conditions by investing in people, communities and innovative ideas” (H&M) or to "inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” (Patagonia)? The answer is “A LOT”, but in some cases the reality of the facts might be different.

What if a remedy exists? Blockchain represents an excellent candidate. In order to deepen the argument, we have asked Giacomo Altadonna, vice-president of Bocconi’s Blockchain Cryptocurrencies Association, to explain briefly what blockchain is to someone that does not know anything about it. In a nutshell, Giacomo described blockchain as a register of data, available to everybody and where every participant can see who uploads what. Moreover, the system requires newly uploaded data to be in accordance with already existing ones.

It follows that blockchain could be extremely useful in tracking the path that products make before arriving in your hands. The problem with this technology, as Giacomo outlines, is that full transparency might not always be a desirable outcome for fashion companies. Indeed, companies could find it pointless, if not self-destructive, to share products information and internal process, which could expose the company to public opinion. By revealing this type of data, many companies would have to admit that most of their products are actually overpriced and not as sustainable as declared.

The Danish designer Martine Jarlgaard is living proof of how fashion and blockchain can be intertwined and work together. Through a partnership with Provenance, a business which defines itself as a “platform and consultancy for transparency”, Martine Jarlgaard enabled its customers to use blockchain technology to verify the sustainability of the products. Clients can scan clothes’ internal target and read all about the product’s origin on Provenance’s app. This simple operation reduces ambiguities regarding products sustainability and improves the image and the transparency of the brand.

To most of us, the name Martine Jarlgaard does not ring any bells, and this should make us reflect. How is it possible that in a world where global warming threatens many species’ existence everyday, media still concentrates on well-known (usually unsustainable) brands? Isn’t it the right time to recalibrate our perspective?


 Bibliography

·       “About.” Provenance, www.provenance.org/about.

·       Modefica. “How Blockchain Can Make Fashion More Transparent and Sustainable.” Medium, Modefica Global, 21 Mar. 2020, medium.com/modefica-global/how-blockchain-can-make-fashion-more-transparent-and-sustainable-d200e93ed505.

·       Sapadin, Linda. “The Anchoring Effect: How It Impacts Your Everyday Life.” World of Psychology, 8 July 2018, psychcentral.com/blog/the-anchoring-effect-how-it-impacts-your-everyday-life/.