RE: From Yarn to Tag

RE: From Yarn to Tag

Last month I presented on RFID technology in the fashion industry. Some of the initial anecdotal responses I received, as well as questions post-presentation, were surrounding my mention of RFID technology on yarn. I decided to do deeper research on the subject and investigate how the process works and the benefits of this technology.  

The high-level process of embedding RFID technology into yarn is as follows: An antenna is connected to an RFID chip and weaved into the textile yarn. There are a few requirements for the yarn to be viable to make the technology effective in its use. The yarn that best suits RFID requirements is washable, easy to process, conductive, flexible, and enduring meaning that it can last for a determined timespan.  

As I mentioned in my presentation, embedding the technology in yarn has benefits for both businesses and the environment when the benefits of RFID are fully exploited. RFID embedded in yarn used for textiles in the apparel industry supports deep insights across the entire supply chain. In my presentation I described in detail the benefits of RFID on apparel, more specifically in fashion stores, and the benefits store data can provide businesses in the entire production process. Yarn in RFID can provide the most accurate authentication of products. Implementation of RFID technology into yarn also provides better control in the production process. Unfinished products can be detected, and quality can be monitored and controlled by the entire RFID system. Proper use of materials in the production process can also be better monitored with implementation on the yarn level. 

Another subject I very briefly touched upon in my presentation was implementation of RFID technology in yarn which can provide recycling directions at the end of a product’s life. RFID on the yarn level promotes sustainability in the fashion industry and is the answer to another key issue that faces industry. The global fashion industry produces over 92 million tons of waste per year. In the United States, over 17 million tons of used textile waste are produced each year. Clothing is hard to recycle. This is due to the fact that clothing is made of a combination of various fibers and materials. RFID leverages efficiency of recycling apparel by differentiating products that need to be sorted by textile type. 

RFID also can be leveraged to reduce waste and overproduction. Real time data supports lean production of products not widely desired by consumers which decreases costs and enhances a business’s bottom line. Beyond usage in yarn and textiles at the smallest level, implementation of RFID technology tags in warehouses and logistics channels can greatly reduce waste that is created during the production process. Accurate order tracking can reduce waste produced by unnecessary transportation caused by weak order tracking. Not only can the technology help reduce Co2 waste in the logistics space, but it can also pinpoint bottlenecks and wasted space in warehouses and provide data that can be used by management to rectify these issues. 

Beyond RFID:

There are numerous other technologies targeting the highly wasteful fashion industry to combat the high levels of pollution produced year over year. Natural textiles such as cotton, are highly resource intensive and use the amount of water that one person drinks in 2.5 years. On the other hand, synthetic materials do not degrade quickly and are made of harmful chemicals. One way to combat these problems is turning to natural agricultural waste including leaves and rinds to create more sustainable textiles for the clothing industry. The fashion industry is also looking to implement regenerative farming to restore the health of soil that is greatly drained from producing natural textiles like cotton.

Other fashion tech companies look to curb consumer consumption with their business models. ThredUp is a popular company that supports buying and reselling apparel items that are in good condition from sought after brands. Rent the Runway has a different business model that offers consumers different subscription levels where you can search for clothing, accessories, and outwear from high end brands and the items are delivered on a rotating basis. I currently have a Rent the Runway subscription because of all the holiday events coming up in the next two months. I got my subscription because I thought it would help me save money rather than buying new clothes, I have a one-time charge each month. In a culture where many people feel the need to get a new outfit for every event (most likely perpetuated by social media and Instagram pictures), Rent the Runway helps solve this problem in some way. While there are many technologies being presented to combat the waste created by the fashion industry, both businesses and consumers will need to change their behaviors and make conscious efforts to become part of the solution to make a change. 

Would you wear a shirt with antennas or made of leaves?

12 comments

  1. Kayla, I am so glad you went into more detail on this. I remember being so intrigued that RFID can be embedded in something as small as a piece of yarn. As online shopping continues to grow, I do think we will see the growth of RFID in the fashion industry. I don’t think consumers will be willing to shopping online only to be told that an item is out of stock. This situation could be totally preventable with RFID. I am guessing that luxury brands may lead the way in terms of adoption because of the authentication capabilities of RFID.

    I read this fascinating vogue article that discusses many of the benefits you outlined here and your presentation. If anyone who wants to learn more, I encourage you to check it out.

    https://www.voguebusiness.com/technology/the-tech-shaking-up-fashions-inventory-load

  2. Thank you for following up on your presentation to provide some clarity. You’ve answered some of the basic questions I was asking myself, such as “can something with an RFID thread be washed?”

    As for wearing “leaves”… hmmm, I guess I would need to see and feel the product before determining that. That said, I don’t really scrutinize the ingredients of my clothes, so for all I know I could already be wearing some sort of leafy fabric!

  3. This is really helpful — honestly when I thought of RFID, I thought of the plastic tags that you have to cut off of your clothing, so this is a helpful clarification. I love that this is a potential way to reduce clothing waste to be able to sort through the different types of fabrics. I would personally wear whatever fabric is most cost effective – leaves or not. This is the barrier for most sustainable fashion, but I have also considered the Rent the Runway subscription! Thanks for the recommendation!!

  4. Thank you for the follow up blog post on your presentation. I think highlighting that the fashion industry is working to combat the waste they create is important, especially since we’ve previously discussed the downside of technology being waste.

  5. Hi Kayla, What a great follow-up to your presentation on RFID technology in the fashion industry. I think this is mind-blowing. I can’t believe that this technology is so utilized across industries. I remember the first time I heard about it. I couldn’t even wrap my head around it, but you did a great job walking us through it.

  6. So happy you provided additional context on your presentation! My original presentation idea (before switching to LiDAR) was going to be on sustainable supply chains. I had difficulty finding enough information about tracking materials in supply chains through technology such as RFID. Learning about the antenna that is embedded into an RFID chip that is attached to the yarn is so insightful. I’m always impressed how small this technology can be and at the same time be so durable to last throughout an entire global supply chain. Thanks again for sharing!

  7. I’m glad you took the time to expand on the statement! I have two thoughts on this, I’m still confused on how adding RFID to the yarn would make it more sustainable. It feels like it would be tougher to separate out those strands from the rest of the yarn and be able to reuse it. I’m also curious on how secure this tech could be; what’s stopping someone from trying to re-write the code on the RFID tags? I imagine the current process would be weave it into the yarn, create clothing, ‘stamp’ some type of information into the RFID of the clothes, and then sell. I wonder if the RFID could be renewed, updated, or modified (potentially by a criminal/hacker).

  8. So interesting – love the follow up from your presentation! I recently learned that Rothy’s uses recycled single-use plastic to create the thread for its shoes/products, and “knits to shape” (which I think is another way of saying “additive manufacturing”?) to reduce waste. It’s amazing how technology can help in transforming questionable materials like plastic water bottles and leaves into clothing, and I’m hopeful that the advent of platforms like Rent the Runway and using RFID will help to even further offset the environmental impact of fast fashion, or transform the industry entirely.

    Here’s another interesting article about how the pandemic has allowed retailers to break a cycle of overbuying and discounting, that has resulted in the overcrowding of stores with merchandise. Though it doesn’t explicitly mention how tech has helped, I have to imagine they are relying heavily on data and potentially even RFID to get the balance right:

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/retail-industry-shopping-change-pandemic-11637331502?mod=Searchresults_pos18&page=1

  9. I’d absolutely wear a shirt made with either an antenna or leaves…or whatever else really. I would even pay a small premium to support new technology or a good cause, but what I wouldn’t do is sacrifice comfort. I think a big problem with most of the sustainably sourced clothing is that it’s more expensive and also not nearly as comfortable. Last spring I came across Fair Harbor which is a company out of NY that makes bathing suits from recycled bottles. I got a pair that I loved but soon realized they didn’t dry even close to as fast as a normal bathing suit. I’d leave it hanging overnight and it would still be damp the next day every time! As for the RFID technology, I haven’t come across anything yet but will be keeping an eye out. I found a company that I’ve linked below that makes RFID embedded shirts and was thinking it would be funny someday if people had docs like their resumes embedded in suits for job fairs. A ton of possibilities if that technology catches on.

    https://threadfast.com/pages/rfid

  10. Thanks for the interesting and important post, Kayla! It’s so crazy to me that the fashion industry is so wasteful. On average, people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000. Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. And 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. And washing some types of clothes sends thousands of bits of plastic into the ocean. https://www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10.

    While companies like RtR increase pollution in the constant shipments, that is obviously a better net result vs. the waste you mentioned in fashion as a whole. How do you like Rent the Runway? I had a subscription awhile back and found that it was helpful for events, but not for my day to day shopping.

  11. In addition to all of the comments above, I wanted to point out the cost of embedding yarn with RFID. Being a business elective, I would like to take this a step further and analyze the costs of tracking yarn from beginning to end product. Though it is a fantastic idea being used, I’m not sure this is sustainable for companies not named in fast fashion or luxury brands.

  12. Great follow up to your presentation! Making fashion and clothing sustainable is important as well as reducing waste! There have been several instances where I put an item in the cart and when I go to purchase it, it’s sold out in my size! RDIF can be extremely helpful in preventing this from happening.

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