Sustainable Supply Chain Optimisation: Proof of Concept
The Sustainable Supply Chain Optimisation (SSCO) project is a research and innovation initiative jointly funded by the UK Government through UK Research and Innovation and Innovate UK and the project partners UKFT, TechData, the Future Fashion Factory and IBM.
The nine-month pilot started in April 2021, aiming to improve visibility and transparency throughout the fashion supply chain. The pilot organisations working with the project were Next, New Look, Laxtons, N Brown and H&M (COS brand).
The project initially focused on the cotton industry and uses cotton as the key contributor to the wider UKFT initiative, as well as looking at water certification and the issue of forced labour within the international supply chain. It also explored mapping the UK wool supply chain in one use case.
To obtain the visibility and transparency, the project works collaboratively and co-create with retailers’ ecosystem partners, first to understand the process and supporting documentation and second work to retrieve the right data to successfully test the solution.
Ultimately the aim is to create a comprehensive solution with an initial focus to create a more transparent, efficient and sustainable end-to-end fashion supply chain. As first step, the project worked on a Proof of Concept (POC).
One of the retailers involved in the pilot project said: “There is a growing imperative to join the dots at the beginning and end of the lifecycle of product. We are conscious that we now need to be going back to tier 2 and 3 and where we had certain transparency, it is becoming more of an onerous task in the business to get back as far in the supply chain as we need to. There is also the issue of the Xinjiang cotton which has increased the profile of the issue in the last year. We use a lot of BCI cotton but it is about being able to demonstrate exactly where that cotton is from.”
They explained that the appeal of the project is that while it looks at the traceability of the products, it also seeks to look at the social side of production too, for example with the issues around forced labour.
A major challenge, however, is how to get data into the systems and how to build a system that can interact with other existing systems and technologies. The project team was keen not to replicate existing work that had already been done or was being used. For this reason, using blockchain and AI to data capture provides new ways of solving some of these challenges.
Several of the retailers appreciated the fact that from the outset, the project sought to tackle the cotton supply chain, which is particularly difficult to trace.
“What has been becoming really obvious is that the transparency issue is the shape of an egg timer,” said one retailer. “The end consumer wants to understand that you have full visibility and the person growing the cotton has visibility of their section but you seem to lose it in the middle. In a more extended value chain the link to the end consumer is not very good. The joined up part of the system is really key.”
Another retailer pointed out they were pursuing a similar project with timber, which is covered by legislation but doesn’t necessarily make it much easier. “It is about pulling in the data and not a push. The opportunity with this project is to make the information flow through the system, and pick it up at the point it is attached to your brand and product. That seems to be a key difference to what is already out there.”
Why is transparency important in the fashion supply chain for individual companies and the wider industry?
- Improved supply-chain sustainability;
- Increased trust in goods produced;
- Reduced Waste;
- Increased chances of new business opportunities;
- Inventory optimisation
- Better forecasting
- Improved ESG reporting functionality
- Increased post-sales circularity
The Proof of Concept is being built using different components to test the functionality and scenarios.
- Supply chain users can submit documents
- Extract information and load into blockchain automatically
- Demonstration of traceability
Developing the Proof of Concept
- Not production proof.
- Test the concept.
- Design learnings to inform future architecture.
- Designed for integration with multiple services.