How to stop fakes entering your supply chain
Counterfeit garments take profits from producers, but technology can help avoid this and differentiate fakes from authentic items.
The worldwide fashion industry lost a staggering $50bn in 2020 due the sale of fake and counterfeit products. Even influencers with a huge following on social media, such as TikTok star Vivian Tu – known on the platform as @yourrichbff – recommended people buy “dupes” (short for duplicates). This has had detrimental effects on economies. Figures from the UK government show that the annual loss to the economy through counterfeiting and piracy is £9bn – plus 80,500 job losses each year.
The presence of fakes, especially in the garment sector, may be new, but fakes have been in fashion for many decades. “The use of fake fashion items has been done for millennia,” says Valerie Steele, US historian and Director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Clothing didn’t feature labels until the mid-1800s, when designers used them as a way to define authenticity
But the concept of the fake or the counterfeit item is one that has changed over the past few years, as Generation Z and millennials seek to emulate super-rich celebrities rather than their older siblings. “Knockoffs” made their way into the US consumer market as early as the 1900s, when American designers would travel to Paris with the intention of copying the fashion they saw there. Clothing didn’t feature labels until the mid-1800s, when designers used them as a way to define authenticity.
In a global market with an estimated value of around $500bn, counterfeit sneakers account for 20%. Counterfeiting is almost a natural accompaniment to success. Kal Raustiala, author of The Knockoff Economy, says: “Generally an increase in licit trade overall leads to an increase in illicit trade.”
Spotting and stopping fakes
How can printers spot fakes and keep them out of their supply chains? Talulah Jones, Authentication Training Lead at eBay, has the role of picking out the fake shoes masquerading as the real thing. She uses a smell test as part of the authentication process at the company – a toxic odour can be a sign that the shoes are not all they seem.
However, we can’t all rely on our noses to track down fakes. And the holographic images or barcodes affixed to products can now be convincingly copied by criminals and are now of little use to the end user or a participant in your supply chain.
Companies Temera and Everledger recently joined forces to adopt easy-to-use technology to assure authenticity of items sold in the fashion sector and appeal to consumers at the same time. Fashion company Alexander McQueen has been using Temera’s tech for many years, which features RFID-UHF.
RFID is an acronym for “radio-frequency identification”, where digital data is encoded in RFID tags or smart labels are captured by a reader via radio waves – there is no need for a direct scan as with a barcode. Data from the tag or label is captured by a device that stores the data in a database, allowing end-to-end tracing of a product.
Every step of the process when creating an item of fashion is closely monitored and recorded, so that the item’s authenticity is beyond reproach
Alexander McQueen has now enhanced this with the addition of an extra chip with Near Field Communication (NFC). This allows the consumer to interact with the final product using a smartphone, allowing them to ‘transfer’ ownership if they decide to sell the product second-hand. Every step of the process when creating an item of fashion is closely monitored and recorded, so that the item’s authenticity is beyond reproach. In this way, supply chain transparency works perfectly with user experience.
Bramwith suggests that methods such as using blockchains, working closer with other companies in the supply chain, setting up end to end tracking and tracing for products can help to bring down the impact of those selling fake items.
improved traceability and end-to-end tracking of the items make it more challenging to sell counterfeit goods
Blockchain, a distributed ledger technology most famous as the keystone of bitcoin, maintains an unbreakable and decentralised historical chain of transactions in goods as well as crypto currency. The chain is irreversible and permanently recorded – all links in the blockchain depend on the unchangeability of this history. Therefore, even in the future, any unknown problems will be clear to see. Other firms have also been utilising blockchain and QR technology to beat the fakes, so improved traceability and end-to-end tracking of the items make it more challenging to sell counterfeit goods.
What can printers do?
Identifying counterfeit elements in your supply chain is crucial. They can tie you up into expensive and time-consuming legal processes or be substandard and dangerous. The effective protection of goods starts with businesses developing a strategy that is tailored to them. Your IP strategy should be simple so that it is easy to implement and bring to life. Inaugurate a simple reporting structure in your firm, and take robust enforcement action to limit the effect of any counterfeits discovered in your supply chain. In addition, educating customers about the authenticity of your products will safeguard their wallets as well as increase client loyalty.
RFID and blockchain give all links in the supply chain the best tools to remove fakes, authenticate quality and satisfy customers, all at the same time.
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