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Transparency vs. Traceability: What's The Difference?

Outsourcing and subcontracting created the tangled web we call our supply chain and it is proving to be a very big challenge to untangle it. We have operated in such an opaque industry for the past couple of decades that it is taking years for brands to trace back their entire supply chains! Headlines of large corporations under scrutiny for getting “tangled” in forced labour scandals clearly show you how unaware companies can be of where the products really come from. However, transparent companies and traceable supply chains are helping us find visibility within the value chain. But what is the difference between transparency and traceability, and how we can achieve both in the world of denim and fashion?

When you look for the definition of “transparency,” the first one that pops up is its scientific definition: the state of being transparent. Ha. Oh, how we wish it was this simple 🙃 But if you scroll down the page, you’ll see the need to get more specific into what type of transparency you are referring to. Is it social, business, scientific or workplace transparency you are referring to? Whatever it is, it needs to be clearly defined and differentiated from “traceability.”

Transparent brands often refer to having “open, honest and straightforward” communication when it comes to their business activity. For example, a transparent brand would take responsibility for an issue they have discovered in the business rather than trying to cover it up with a publicity stunt. But, when brands use the term, it is often referring to supply chain transparency in which a brand will map and list their suppliers by name. This list captures high-level information like the location of facilities, name of the company, and associated certifications.

Traceability, on the other hand, is an enabler to supply chain transparency by capturing the more granular data. When we refer to supply chain traceability, we are referring to the ability to capture the nitty gritty information on particular ingredients and components that flow through the value chain like, lot number, harvest date, batch number, etc. It is a zoomed in look at how components travel through the supply chain versus a zoomed out approach that looks at mapping the entire end-to-end supply chain. Blockchain has become one of the most common methods for supply chain traceability, but with the risk of fake documentation at the raw material stage, tracers have been becoming the primary method of choice in combination with blockchain technology. The difference? Blockchain can be thought of as a structural database that holds a chain of records stored in the form of blocks and controlled by no single authority. Tracers, on the other hand, are embedded into a fibre or fabric and can be scanned for verification throughout its lifecycle.

Fibretrace™ has developed an indestructible tracing technology that can be applied to fibres to give you 20/20 vision into an entire supply chain through real-time data. This technology provides the ability to follow the entire life of a product from fibre, to product, to recycle, to reuse or rebirth.


FibreTrace™ embeds luminescent pigments into any fabric, right at the farm or spinning mill. The pigments can then be read and tracked at every stage of the supply chain - even by the end consumer. Each audit is recorded on the blockchain platform ensuring immediate, secure, accessible and irrefutable data that builds a unique digital passport for each item telling its story from farm to shelf. Check it out for yourself below! Some questions have been raised regarding the longevity of these tracers after being subject to harsh dyeing and finishing processes. But, even after the rebirth of a product, tracers are not affected. FibreTrace™ has done trials where they have completely destroyed a FibreTrace™ garment to ashes, and to my surprise, still had the FibreTrace™ pigment within it when scanned. Not only does this testing trial show you how indestructible the technology truly is, it also shows us the future benefits, as well. As the goal is to keep products and materials cycling through as long as possible, knowing exactly what’s in them to maximise the use is extremely important.

Most recycling solutions require the knowledge of the exact composition of the jeans, but we all know that sometimes a label gets a little itchy or gets damaged after many washes and eventually gets cut off. It is certainly not a crime, but this small move means that a potential recycling center has to spend a lot of time and money to find out what the fabric is made of. With Fibertrace™ recyclers can know in one scan not only what solution is best to recycle the fabric, but also all the content of the trims. The same thought can be applied to brands taking back their pieces. With Fibertrace™ they can know for sure that they are not counterfeits and have the major potential to enable systems of taking back, recommence and rental.

As you can see, FibreTrace™utilizes both blockchain and tracer technology to provide transparent and traceable supply chains in a holistic manner. But, understanding the difference between transparency and traceability is very important in creating supply chain management strategies to capture and communicate the right information to the right people. The goal is to be able to communicate clearly to the end consumer and when we know what’s going on in our supply chain, it starts a truly open, honest and straightforward conversation between everyone in the chain.

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