Ralph Lauren Corp. is set to digitize its entire product line beginning with the Polo brand, partnering with real-time Internet of Things software platform Evrythng and global materials science and manufacturing company Avery Dennison, WWD has learned.
On Friday, a case study on the partnership appeared in a white paper titled “Supply Chain Collaboration Through Advanced Manufacturing Technologies” published by the World Economic Forum.
“The launch of Digital Product IDs demonstrates how we continue to use technology to deliver more for our consumers and ensure the integrity of our products throughout their lifecycle,” said David Lauren, chief innovation officer, in a press statement. Now every Polo product will be ‘born-digital’ – representing what Lauren calls, “a new milestone in data intelligence innovation in our sector.”
Prior to its rollout with Ralph Lauren, Evrythng partnered with Avery Dennison and IOTA Foundation in a small-scale pilot with luxury fashion brand Alyx last year.
Fashion is amplifying its race toward the fourth industrial revolution. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, has detailed this extensively in his book appropriately titled, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Also, as Boston Consulting Group and Global Fashion Agenda detailed in its “The Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2019” report — 60 percent of the industry needs to further scale up proven measures to reduce the footprint of the current value chain, such as supply chain traceability.
With Ralph Lauren being the first to enact digitization at this scale with the launch of its Digital Product Identities (IDs), other IoT start-ups in the space are likely to go full throttle in the next year. Namely, IoT-powered company Eon with its CircularID pre-market technology aligned under The Connect Fashion Global Initiative — to which Microsoft, PVH, H&M and Target are members — are most likely to announce potential rollouts once the technology becomes commercially available this November.
With its partnership with Ralph Lauren, Evrythng is responsible for the data infrastructure and product digitization, which is managed on the cloud, while Avery Dennison — with its Janela solution — manages the creation and printing of the product labels. For Evrythng, this includes a massive input of information at the item level during production so that each individual item maintains a unique digital identity that corresponds with its physical product twin. This means Ralph Lauren, and all of its customers with a smartphone, finally gain true transparency and authenticity.
It’s no small feat, as the more than 50-year-old brand manages hundreds of third-party manufacturers in its supply chain, across five product categories with an annual volume of just under 200 million product items, as the case study showed. And this digital benefit will need to be marketed and communicated to consumers, but once that is achieved, previously unavailable control of the resale market, recycling initiatives, as well as real-time ownership and loyalty programs are bolstered.
Although the rise in luxury resale models such as The RealReal have demonstrated proof-of-concept, Ralph Lauren may be apt to own their secondary channels. “We do believe in the resale model,” said Patrice Louvet at WWD’s Apparel & Retail CEO Summit this week, citing the brand’s fervor for “timelessness” and “quality,” as precursors to success. “So I think we’re incredibly well-positioned for the resale market,” he said.
Previous ventures in tech for Ralph Lauren included early adoption of the QR code, holograms in its flagship windows, interactive fitting rooms, wearables with its Polo Tech shirt, virtual trunk shows and runway experiences, all the way back to its soft web site debut in 2000 with “polo.com” before transitioning to its namesake web site and adding e-commerce capabilities later on. More recently, the company had been dabbling in digital-first, on-demand customization experiences.
The partnership with Evrythng and Avery Dennison represents a larger vision for Ralph Lauren’s modern responsible sourcing program that guides its corporate commitment to sustainable materials and traceability, starting at the raw material phase.
Last year, Ralph Lauren began developing its “sustainable fiber road map,” including new policies, partnerships and goals. The company also noted how “knowing where our materials come from and how they are made is key to creating our products sustainably,” on its corporate web site. That’s exactly the advantage created in its partnership with Evrythng and Avery Dennison.
Digital identities map the entire life cycle of a product, in what Niall Murphy, cofounder and chief executive officer of Evrythng, calls a “transparency goal,” as previously reported by WWD. This includes product material, type of labor, factory location and its intended distribution channel unlocking opportunity for both brand and consumer purposes.
As the company also states in its corporate commitments, it is arming its design, product development and merchant teams with annual training for “sustainable, circular, inclusive and culturally aware design” by 2020.
Last year, Evrythng was one of the first commercial supporters for the GS1 digital link standard, which means any smartphone can access a product’s unique digital identity and web address via a QR code or NFC tag. As the industry moves to realize its sustainability and traceability goals with new technology partnerships, consumer data will still need to be permissible and secured, while brand-led education will need to incorporate sustainability messaging and exciting calls-to-action — so that consumers actually engage.