Fashion’s Digital ID: A Giant Leap for Circularity

With all the advances in the sustainable fashion space, it is rare to come across an idea that is so translatable, so scalable, that it might just work.

words hannah cole photography supplied

Whether big or small, brands must turn a profit; this is the key to business survival. New York-based Eon is working to marry sustainability and profitability together in an appealing way for all.

As Founder and CEO Natasha Franck shares, “The concept of sustainable fashion within the current parameters of the business model does not exist because the incentives are not aligned.” As she puts it, in the traditional model, the only way for a business to make more money is to sell more product — an inherently unsustainable practice. Eon, however, is building a platform of circular commerce whereby a brand is connected to a product throughout its lifecycle, opening doors to additional revenue streams. More than just the idea of upcycling a labels’ deadstock, brands are enabled to monetise their products “through new business models, through rental, through resale, through use, and be associated with the post-initial sale value of that product.” 

How does Eon foster this wealth of possibility? Franck notes, “The biggest barrier to enabling circular economy is product and material identification,” so Eon developed the technology platform and CircularID™ Protocol. It seems so bleedingly obvious when put in front of you: of course, each garment should have an ID. The Protocol — which is currently in the pilot phase — acts as an identification tool for clothing, including information on the brand, material content, factory of origin and more, so the piece can be correctly and efficiently ID’ed throughout the life cycle. Franck likens this to a “digital birth certificate,” which then acts as a passport of sorts. As she lists, “I was scanned by the customer, I was worn, I was resold, I was recycled,” and so on.

All this information is embedded into a garment or label and accessed via QR codes, an NFC tag, or an RFID chip. Customers can repurchase the same item with a simple scan as they part with their favourite, well-worn tee or follow directives to alternative outfit recommendations — all housed within the brands’ control. A recycling facility can automatically determine the material content of a garment and sort accordingly for appropriate recycling. The technology also aids in the upcycling process. Many labels outsource their repairs and resale programmes to re-commerce firms, so the ID distinguishes critical information in seconds instead of the potential hours spent on this today. In effect, this allows resale to work at scale and finally turn a profit — ideally, making these schemes more attractive to all. 

For a brand, this also provides invaluable data which is otherwise unknown. They learn how we wear, the longevity of products, and the journey and value of a piece. There is more incentive than ever to produce better: “By making a better quality, longer-lasting product, they can generate more revenue than their counterparts,” states Franck.

non eco denim

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non is one such brand partnering with Eon in this phase. Founder and Creative Director Pete Hellyer outlines the reasons for the involvement as such, “Our partnership helps non take responsibility for our goods throughout their lifetime. Firstly, customers can access care and washing guides to help extend the life of an item. Secondly, next-generation recyclers will be able to access circularity data to aide recycling or reuse programmess.” This awareness of the post-life — or post initial sale — impact of a garment Hellyer hopes will become commonplace in the industry.

non is one of approximately 10 labels currently on the platform; however, it is the smallest of the bunch. Eon’s drive is the big guys: “It’s definitely very easy for us to launch with a small brand. It’s also less impactful,” Franck shares. Eon is working with Yoox Net-a-Porter on their private label collection, Nanushka and Gabriela Hearst. The goal, Franck continues, is to ID every product coming online, “And if we can’t solve this for the H&Ms of the world, then we are not making the impact that we want to make.”

The hope is that the integration of this model across many brands will be fast-moving. Finally, there is a positive technology story to share. Brands have a robust incentive to make sustainability a core feature — one implemented with minimal effort or cost. 

As the conversation with Franck closed, she ended with a near-poetic vision of the system: “It’s like when you rented a movie from Blockbuster — it was ID’ed because you were expected to return it. If you think about the earth as this facility that we are all renting resources from, then we need to ID the products, and we need to get it back to the Earth.” Dust to dust, as they say — it’s the way forward for true circularity and accountability. 

non eco

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