by Pierre Nicolas Hurstel
In 2017, Blockchain was THE buzzword of the year, only to become the word to avoid in 2018. It is taking center stage again in 2019. One of the main reasons is the announcement that some of the most innovative companies in the world such as Uber, Paypal and Spotify are joining Libra, a Facebook-led blockchain initiative aiming to build a cryptocurrency.
Usually, explaining blockchain starts with a complex description of the underlying technology. Here, we will focus on what blockchain enables for fashion and luxury companies, but if you are looking for more in-depth information, you will find great resources here and here.
Blockchain is a clever solution to one of the Internet’s limitations. Today the Internet makes seamless exchanges of information possible. However, because preventing duplication and sharing is impossible, gatekeepers that guarantee the exchange of valuable assets have emerged, such as companies like DocuSign, which serve as a referent for contracts signed electronically. They verify the identity of the signatories and maintain a record of the signed contract, as a notary would do IRL (“in real life”). They however exert a tight control on such information, and have built profitable businesses restricting access to it.
The promise of blockchain is to make these digital gatekeepers irrelevant, thanks to new protocols that can ensure property rights while eliminating the need for an intermediary, possibly making these middle-men a thing of the past. Blockchain enables all users to manage their valuable assets without restriction, just like the internet made it possible for all of us to share information freely.
In other words, an “Internet of Value” would be able to manage valuable assets independently with blockchain.
How is this relevant for fashion companies?
One of the major opportunities is to create unique digital identities for products that are impossible to falsify. These digital passports for your products are proof of authenticity, ownership, and a record for important events. You can now easily share such information with anyone, whether they are friends, brands or service providers.
The potential applications for such a system are endless. Here are a few examples.
Resell fashion items
The second-hand market for fashion and luxury goods is growing at a 40% annual rate. Resell is not a fringe behavior, everybody is doing it! Buying second-hand is a way to access hard to find items, afford a higher quality product, and give a second life to a fashion item which contributes to a more circular economy. Clients of platforms such as The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective would strongly benefit from the use of digital passports as an easy and cost-effective way to onboard new sellers and perform the initial check in their anti-counterfeiting process. For brands emitting digital passports, they would be able to monitor, or even organize their second-hand market by staying in touch with the successive owners of their products.
Keep in touch with your favorite brands while protecting privacy
Customers want to have a relationship with their brands. They want to share brand-related content and be seen with their favorite brands, but they draw the line at being personally tracked. The advantage of product-based digital identification is that brands can communicate directly with product-owners without having to store or rely on sensitive user information.
This could become a new kind of customer relationship where a new type of bond between brands and customers is created, and enable the development of new engagement strategies that protect individual privacy.
Refill your perfume bottle
Sustainability is becoming a core value of the cosmetic industry. The growing trend of “fragrance fountains” in the perfume industry is actually nothing new: it originated in the 18th century. When your fragrance is running low, you can simply refill it instead of buying a brand-new bottle. Refilling alone will earn you green karma points, but couple it with a digital passport on your bottle and you could be able to quantify your perfume usage, receive personalized recommendations or collect loyalty points, completely anonymously. For beauty brands suffering from the intermediation of distributors, this could open a new direct communication channel with their clients.
Insure your product in one click
Today, insuring your watch involves providing three paper documents: the receipt for your purchase, the certificate of authenticity and the servicing history. These physical documents are easily lost, destroyed and of course copied. Sharing them is also very difficult, as you would need to present them in person, or send a certified copy. In our digital age, it is truly an antiquated process. With a digital passport, an owner can share unfalsifiable proofs of authenticity, ownership and history of service in an instant. Product insurance is just one click away.
Wear your favorite fashion in virtual worlds and real life
We spend more and more time in the digital worlds of social media, games or professional networks where we build images of ourselves and meaningful relationships with others, moving between the boundaries of physical and virtual space. Digital passports enable owners to take their most cherished products with them anywhere they go, whether online or IRL . Soon you will be able to wear your pair of sneakers in the physical world, as well as in every digital world in which you spend time. Games such as Fortnite are already preparing collections in collaboration with top artists and fashion brands.