Hessnatur pilots in-garment RFID tags with QR Codes for circular initiatives

May 22, 2024
Brand Case

Is sustainable fashion still a trend or a necessity? The global fashion sector, notorious for its substantial environmental footprint, is at a crossroads. With over 100 billion items of clothing sold annually and more than 70% ending up in landfills or incinerated, the call for recycling and circularity strategies has never been louder (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future).

Extend the life cycle of garments, facilitate recycling, and provide customers and sorters with detailed product information.

Technology comes as the perfect tool to reinforce circular initiatives and enable change. The introduction of innovative technologies aims to achieve a more circular and transparent textile industry. This also means that consumers get to make more informed decisions. Providing cutting-edge RFID as well as QR code tagging solutions, Trimco Group supports today's brands that are on a quest for sustainability but also seek to enhance consumer engagement through advanced garment traceability, comply with EU regulations, and optimize their operations.

One of the forward-thinking brands that adopted technology in its recent efforts is the natural fashion brand hessnatur. Known for its fair fashion concept, the German brand partnered with circularity.ID® from circular.fashion and Trimco Group in an exercise to put technology to good use.

Bridging the gap with RFID and QR Codes

Providing RFID or QR code tagging separately is not news. However, integrating RFID heat transfer tags along with QR codes into garments offers a versatile approach to tackling the industry's challenges. Hessnatur, a forerunner in sustainable fashion, has embarked on an RFID pilot to explore these benefits firsthand, as recycling is an essential part of the brand’s circularity strategy.

Their aim is to prolong the life of clothes by using the brand’s care & repair guide and service or their shop filled with pre-loved items. All of this is also supported by acting mindfully in connection with recycling at every step of the way. “By using mono materials, recycling our own production offcuts in our BetterRecycling collection, and taking back worn-out clothes.”

Their goal is ambitious yet simple: “To provide customers as well as sorters with even more information about our products, we wanted to give RFID tags, and QR codes a try to see how our customers respond to the additional information and to get an idea of how it works,” mentions the brand.

The QR Code is easier to use for customers since you only need your smartphone. The RFID Tag, on the other hand, is easier to use for sorters.

Combining RFID technology with QR codes addresses the complexity of supply chains and the diverse needs of users. While RFID tags streamline sorting processes with their machine-readability, QR codes empower consumers to access detailed product information effortlessly, using just their smartphones.

Denim as a style choice for the pilot project

We’ve seen it before – brands rushing into adopting a new technology either too extensively or without any explanations leaves customers confused, or worse, frustrated, while brands face unreliable data and a failed project. Unfortunately, technology tends to take the blame. For this reason, hessnatur mentions that the choice of using heat transfer for RFID tags on denim for the purpose of the pilot stems from the need for durability and comfort for the consumer. By only choosing Denims, the brand also has the chance to better introduce and give end-users time to get used to the idea. At the end of the pilot, hessnatur will conduct and evaluate feedback from suppliers, customers, and sorters.

The role of RFID in a circular fashion system

RFID technology is a tool and the cornerstone for building a circular fashion ecosystem. "The adoption of RFID and QR codes in garments is a step forward for the industry – especially when the two forces are combined as hessnatur has implemented. This solution enables brands to track the lifecycle of a product from manufacturer to the retail store and engage the end-user through QR codes to promote repair, reuse, recycling, and responsible consumption," says Dennis Sand Eskesen, head of RFID at Trimco Group. He adds, "This approach facilitates recycling and textile sorting by providing accurate information about the textiles ending up in the recycling stream at the end of their lifecycle, only to have another one start – an admirable attempt to achieve circularity.”

Hessnatur's pilot project with denim is just the beginning. The feedback and insights gained from this initial phase will shape the future steps in their RFID journey. By starting with a focused product group and engaging customers from the onset, they aim to refine the technology and its application to meet the evolving needs of the market.

A collaborative effort towards circularity

The success of implementing RFID and QR codes in garments hinges on collaboration between brands, suppliers, customers, and sorters. Andrea Homann, Co-CEO of hessnatur, emphasizes the collective effort required, stating, "It takes all of us to close the loop, companies and customers alike. The circularity.ID® enables us to pass on essential information regarding the components, the care, and the recycling of our products to our customers and to the sorters. This way, we are collectively contributing to the circular economy."

Anne Rech, VP Brand & Communication at hessnatur, further highlights the importance of this technology in facilitating sustainable practices, "Conventional jeans rightfully do have a bad reputation for many reasons.* We, at hessnatur are producing jeans sustainably by saving water using organic cotton** and recycling 80% of the production's wastewater. To make it perfectly easy for our customers to wear their jeans as long as possible, we are offering a Repair & Care Guide as well as our own secondhand platform. The circularity.ID® marks our final step in initiating the recycling of our products by providing necessary product information like material compositions and recycling instructions."

We’re proud to be part of this journey with hessnatur. We’re excited to see the results of this brave initiative and salute the clever leverage of RFID and QR codes for a circular economy.

* e.g. SWR Wissen 2024, Jeans im "Used Look": Geht das auch nachhaltig? or flip. 2023, Das dreckigste Kleidungsstück der Welt

** Refers to data on water savings of organic cotton compared to conventional cotton based on a life cycle analysis by Textile Exchange: TE LCA: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Organic Cotton - A global average (2014, page 54 ff.)

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