Stop for a second and try to ask yourself: where did my clothes come from? Who mined the gold jewellery I am wearing? What forest produced the wooden chair I am sitting on? 

You probably don’t have the answers to these questions. Thus, like most of us, you have no idea how much pollution these items generated or if there was any illegal work condition involved in their production, such as child labour or even slavery. And that is why traceability matters, and it is vital in the shift to a circular economy.


Traceability – also known as supply chain transparency, is the ability to track a supply chain or material back to its origins, checking supplies movements and manufacturing facilities. Lack of traceability is a key obstacle to build a circular economy. 

How can one guarantee that a piece of furniture is circular if its wood came from an unknown place with unknown labour conditions? We can only improve production and distribution practices if they are made visible.

In short, traceability can increase supply chain visibility; improve quality control systems and reduce risk. Keeping a record of the entire production and distribution history allow suppliers to react quickly to any issues.


Globalised supply chains face a more significant challenge when it comes to traceability. Fortunately, recent advancements in track-and-trace technologies are starting to tackle this issue.

Icebreaker – a company that makes clothing from New Zealand merino wool, invites customers to trace their garments back to the farmers who raised the sheep that made it. To do so, they have introduced Baacode – a unique tracking process that means consumers can trace the fibres of their garment back to the same flock of sheep that originally grew them. Consumers can also find out how each garment is made and follow the fibre to the factories that knit, dye, finish, cut, manufacture, and ship it. 

The British company Historic Futures works to design, develop, and deploy tools to improve value chain data management, from primary production to finished product. Using Internet-based systems and RFID tags – Radio-frequency identification, the company tracks commodities such as cotton and gold through the long and previously obscure supply chains of Wal-Mart, Gap, and Patagonia and others. 


Although traceability is not something new, we are more likely to hear about it in the years ahead. We already see a growing number of brands and retailers digging deep into their supply chains to understand better the environmental and social impact of the things they make and sell. Simultaneously, more and more consumers ask where their stuff comes from; they are concerned about unfair trade; labour conditions and global warming. Fashion Revolution ever-growing global community can confirm this. Traceability is all about looking back to look forward. As Historic Futures well puts “To make better products tomorrow, we need to know where they come from today.”.

*Photo Credit: Sacco Goes Green by Zanotta

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