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Industry Talk

Optimising the UK's sustainable supply chain

Data is currently siloed, systems tend to operate in isolation and parties have had little to no incentive to share data.

4th August 2021

Knitting Industry
 |  London

Knitted Outerwear

The UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) is working with IBM, Tech Data, and the Future Fashion Factory to design, prototype and pilot a new technology platform based on IBM technologies to help the UK fashion and textile industry to drive sustainability and profitability through increased transparency within the supply chain.

Retailers Next, H&M’s COS brand, N Brown, New Look and yarn manufacturer Laxtons will be part of the initial pilot.

The Sustainable Supply Chain Optimisation project has been awarded £1.4 million in  funding by Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, on behalf of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge.

The global fashion industry is one of the biggest global polluters and one of the greatest producers of waste, while issues around unsafe workplaces, labour abuses and low wages continue.


One of the major obstacles preventing organisations from implementing more sustainable, responsible practices and preventing consumers from shopping more sustainably is a fundamental lack of transparency and visibility across the different stages of the supply-chain. Data is siloed, systems tend to operate in isolation and parties have had little to no incentive to share data with the rest of the ecosystem due to the significant manual effort. 

The new technology platform will combine a number of emerging technologies like blockchain, AI and sensors to digitise the key processes in the supply-chain, creating a shared system of data that the different parties can trust and easily act upon.

It will, for example, be possible to gain a much better understanding of where and how each garment’s fabric was processed and finished, by whom and in what conditions. It will be easier to spot potential disruptions before they have a chance to affect delivery. It will also be possible to better monitor production processes and flows resulting in a real chance to reduce waste and optimise stock.

These unprecedented levels of insight will allow real, measurable and auditable actions across the whole of the supply-chain, enabling increased understanding of and compliance to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) criteria as well as improved operational efficiency.

In essence, the platform will be designed to help make a complex and disjointed global supply chain more sustainable, resilient and able to cope with unforeseen disruptions.

Robust data

“Working together, we are pleased to support the development of a new supply chain platform tool for the apparel and textiles sector, to facilitate the gathering of robust sustainability data and provide clear visibility of environmental and ethical impacts to empower better decisions,” said Joanne Poynor, head of sustainable development at Next.

“We recognise that collaborating on this project will help remove complexity, increase transparency and help develop sustainable solutions with more reassuring visibility of the people and the environments impacted throughout the value chain,” added Sue Fairley, head of sourcing, sustainability and quality at New Look. “We anticipate that by bringing new technologies and global networks together, UKFT will accelerate change and allow the provenance of the products we sell to open up from origin to end user.”

The nine-month project will deliver a solution built on a combination of IBM’s blockchain and AI technologies running on IBM Cloud. The blockchain technology will enable increased transparency in the supply chain and the AI technology will facilitate the detection and response to supply chain disruption and provide the insights for real-time analysis of current business performance, rapid problem solving and optimisation of business flows. It will be open source and easily available across the whole supply chain, with an integrated visualisation layer as the core innovation focus.

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