June 06, 2024

Digital product passports: fresh insights on what it means for fashion retail

Digital Products Passports

Retailers and brands are waking up to that fact one of the biggest disruptions for decades in the fashion supply chain is coming very soon. Sooner than perhaps, they’d prepared for.

Digital product passports (DPP) will – in the not-too-distant future – be mandated for all clothing items sold into the European Union (EU) as part of a drive towards circular consumption, greater transparency around product origin, and the push towards developing more sustainable – and more ethical – supply chains.

What are DPPs?

DPP is the gateway to a digital record of a garment’s origins, lifecycle, composition, and environmental impact – and other factors such as repairability, warranty, and maintenance.

The idea is to give consumers as much information as possible about the goods they are buying, so they can make considered purchases and ensure their buying behaviour contributes to a more sustainable society.

The EU will soon be mandating the use of DPP across multiple industries, with fashion set to fall under the spotlight in the next couple of years. It comes as the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan looks to reduce the pressure on natural resources and minimise waste, while its Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation is redefining the standards for the eco performance of products sold within the EU.

There is not yet a specific date set for DPP’s introduction, with the regulation forecast to come into effect by 2026/27 for the fashion world – with most other sectors’ products expected to be covered by the new legislation by 2030.

The entry point to discover the DPP information is widely expected to be a QR code printed on the wash care label, which consumers will be able to scan with their phone to access a wealth of data about the garment they intend to or have purchased.

Some analysts have suggested the introduction of the DPP is the most revolutionary structural and data change to the retail industry since the introduction of the barcode in the 1970s. As such, fashion retailers and brands are going to have to work closely together to ensure they navigate this disruption in the coming years.

DPP’s arrival is also likely to result in a major shake-up of the European fashion retail supplier base, and many of the leading players are already streamlining here as they look to conform and ensure they are working with manufacturers willing to play by the rules and embrace transparency.

As the industry moves to adopt DPPs, it’s worth remembering BlueCherry ERP can improve fashion brands’ strategic decision-making and increase enterprise visibility in real time, helping them gain greater control over their supply chains. 

Which retailers have made a start? 

A lot of great work including digital IDs on products has already taken place in the luxury fashion space. Due to the artisanal make-up of the sector, it makes sense luxury has been one of the first to embrace the idea of building in a direct link to product traceability on the item itself – often a product’s provenance is its allure.

As far back as 2020, luxury e-tail group Yoox Net-a-Porter (YNAP) started piloting what it described as a “digital ID” in its clothing. QR codes tailored into selected ranges allowed its customers to access data and digital content related to the individual product via the scan of their smartphone.

The idea was for important moments in a product’s lifestyle, such as repairs and which company or individual resold it and when, could be included in the digital ID. All the bundled together was aimed at fostering a culture of resale, reuse, and circularity.

YNAP started off with digital IDs on its private labels, but the plan was always to talk to its partners about how they might introduce it on their garments.

Now, with it being full steam ahead for DPP, such practices are being mandated anyway, but YNAP was certainly a thought leader and first mover in this space.

Another business ahead of the crowd was British luxury brand Mulberry, which in 2022 started introducing digital IDs to its leather goods, as a way of better connecting with its customers and increasing transparency about origin of goods and wider supply chain.

All vintage pre-loved bags – part of the brand’s Mulberry Exchange circular economy programme – received digital IDs, which when accessed by consumers offered exclusive content and services built around product authentication, repair, and resale.

A key part of the programme was to “ensure that every bag can have multiple lives”, explained Thierry Andretta at the time, with his view being that giving consumers more access to product information can encourage more circular buying behaviour.

Fashion retailers and brands looking to boost transparency and traceability of their products and supply chain across their organisations can also implement the BlueCherry ERP, which is built specifically for their industry and can drive business decision-making.

Nobody’s Child – a DPP pioneer?

We covered the key themes from the 2024 Retail Technology Show (RTS), which took place in London in April, in a previous blog. We cited the importance retailers and brands are placing on optimising visibility of inventory, supply chain collaboration, and setting the right price first time, but there was another session that caught our eye.

Andrew Xeni, co-founder of fast-growing fashion brand Nobody’s Child, which sells direct to consumer and wholesale via Marks & Spencer, Asos, John Lewis and others, took to the stage to give a comprehensive overview of his company’s DPP journey. Nobody’s Child is something of a pioneer in the UK in terms of its approach to this subject.

The brand’s Holly Willoughby celebrity-backed range already has DPPs, and it has gone much deeper than what is expected to become mandatory in terms of the data supplied.

Xeni told the RTS audience these items display information around sustainable development goals, and they include comprehensive product description and composition data “tracing the steps” of the garment’s lifecycle.

Traceability to “tier-five” suppliers is included, and if the item has a specific trim, even that material can be tracked. Nobody’s Child calculates each item’s carbon footprint.

“At every instance and data point in the passport, if you start to dissect that and think where it lives within your respective businesses, you’ll start to see the heavy lift,” Xeni explained, adding there are circa 150 data points in each product DPP. He described the process as “an education” for suppliers.

“We took them through the gears, created all the framework, templates, validation and logic rules,” he added.

There’s no way around it, the future of retail – and the very immediate future of fashion retail – is defined by greater transparency. And retailers and brands working with BlueCherry looking to embark on their own DPP journey will be able to benefit from having a comprehensive view of their supply chain already.

DPP quick refresh

  • It’s not mandatory yet but it’s coming, and fashion brands are likely to need to comply from 2026, so if you haven’t started working out a plan, now is the time. Without it, brands won’t be able to sell in the EU
  • Retailers and brands with good supplier relationships and well-mapped supply chains stand to gain a head start with DPP because so much of the information needed comes from outside their own organisations
  • Some forward-thinking businesses will be using DPP as a competitive advantage, and they will be talking up their transparent supply chain operations as a point of difference and proving their credentials to consumers.

As Xeni said at RTS, when the concept of mandatory DPP emerged a few years back, many UK retailers thought “it’s an EU thing” and it wouldn’t impact them due to Brexit and the UK’s independence from Europe.

“They quickly realised they sell in the EU so they need to fix it,” he added.

“Actually, I’m proud of the big UK retailers being assertive and trying to get their ducks in a row and trying to fix this problem.”

New legislation concerning you? Wondering how investment in ERP can help consolidate supply chain information that will help get your ducks in a row? Connect with one of the BlueCherry team today online to learn about an ERP that is built specifically for the fashion, footwear, and apparel sectors.