Haelixa empowers supply chain with DNA tagging and tracing – Sourcing Journal
The US ban on cotton from Xinjiang has once again shown how important supply chain transparency and proof of origin are. But fragmented textile supply chains make it difficult for brands to maintain transparency and traceability of materials, from fiber production to retail. Meanwhile, supply chain disruptions caused by Covid-19 have made brands aware of the importance of supply chain transparency beyond level 1 for assessment and mitigation. risks.
Award-winning Swiss tech company Haelixa has developed DNA-based technology to mark, trace and authenticate products from source to retail, working in industries such as fashion and precious metals.
Gediminas Mikutis, CTO and co-founder of Haelixa, spoke to Sourcing Journal about how they are solving brands’ growing need for supply chain responsibility.
What are the issues and the repercussions for brands that do not or cannot validate their media?
The demand for responsibility along the value chain is quickly taking center stage both in the minds of end consumers and in the government’s agenda. There are new regulations at national and European level that hold brands directly accountable for violations that occur in their supply chain. In the United States, due to the ban on cotton from the Xinjiang region, several brands had difficulty importing goods when they could not clearly verify and prove the origin of the product. We have also seen damaged brand images and consumer boycotts when brands have been linked to human rights violations in their supply chain.
Haelixa physically marks a garment or material. What is the advantage of this over a more digital approach to traceability?
Digital tools such as blockchain are only reliable to the extent that the data uploaded to them. If the textile product is mixed or traded through complex supply chains, the blockchain alone would not detect it. At Haelixa, we transform the product itself into a medium for information on its origin and its journey throughout the supply chain. We develop a unique DNA marker for each producer, product or batch and then apply it directly to the fiber at the start of the supply chain. The verification is done by a PCR test – the same one used to detect Covid-19 – on the final garment or intermediate product. For security reasons, to detect the initial marker, you need a unique counteragent that functions as a key lock system. This makes the technology fraud-proof and provides reliable data.
While Haelixa’s DNA tracing works on synthetic fibers, consumers have an additional environmental concern for natural fibers. How does Haelixa’s GOTS approval work to your advantage here?
It is imperative that the addition of physical markers to a textile product does not compromise its quality, processability or durability footprint. Haelixa DNA markers are harmless to humans and the environment, free from toxic chemicals and heavy metals, GMO-free and compliant with Oeko-Tex standard 100. The markers are also a GOTS approved input, allowing their use in organic textiles. Some other physical traceability solutions use synthetic fibers and even heavy metals, which contradicts consumers’ desires to buy organic textiles. Haelixa does not affect organic claims and provides forensic evidence that a product is from a certified organic supplier.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe is developing a blockchain traceability tool for the supply chain. What is Haelixa’s role in this?
On May 20, 2021, the EEC launched “The Sustainability Pledge” to promote measurable and verifiable sustainability in the clothing and footwear sector. We have been part of the expert group from the start and have contributed to the initiative of the framework. In a pilot project to physically verify product claims, Haelixa is now providing DNA markers to physically verify product origin, durability and quality information, which is then uploaded to the blockchain.
How long before traceability is a table issue in the clothing industry? What will it take to make it mainstream?
As with any innovation to be accepted, the technology must solve an existing problem and provide a clear benefit. With new supply chain regulations, it can be risky for companies without reliable data to prove where their products come from and how far they’ve come. Providing transparency through traceability also creates a consumer benefit for brands, protecting their reputation with consumers who demand to know who made their clothes / fabrics and under what circumstances. For suppliers, traceability offers a competitive advantage, allowing them to become a preferred supplier, attract new customers and charge a higher price.
Increasingly, investors and shareholders are evaluating companies on their ability to mitigate risk. How does technology like yours make fashion brands more attractive?
Indeed, supply chain resilience and sustainability are becoming megatrends for investors, not only to reduce risk, but also to generate competitive returns. CSRHub study of over 1,000 large companies (over $ 1 billion) proves the growing link between sustainability performance and brand equity. Haelixa’s physical traceability technology provides forensic proof that a product is what it claims to be, improving supply chain resilience and supporting brand and manufacturer sustainability claims, fiber production (or recycling) to finished products.
Greenwashing is ubiquitous in the industry. How does the use of traceability technology make each node in the supply chain aware of each other?
To claim the sustainability of production throughout the supply chain, it is first necessary to have traceability. The physical marking of the product and its traceability through the various processing steps allow brands to legally link the finished product to the origin and quality of the raw material and to the processes used to produce it. Verifiable and traceable data is the key to avoiding greenwashing and creating credible product claims.
To learn more about Haelixa’s traceability system, click here.