With technology quickly invading every aspect of our everyday lives, it makes sense that the fashion industry would shift into a more technologically-driven direction as well.
By now, you’ve probably heard the term RFID, but what does it mean? The acronym stands for “Radio Frequency Identification.” Simply put, these tags are like extremely effective barcodes that contain all the info on your item.
In a bit more detail, within the context of high fashion specifically, RFID tags are undetectable microelectronic barcodes, typically sewn into the item by the manufacturer. Detected and deciphered by radio waves, these tags are primarily used to logistically track the history of an item, such as when it’s made, its place of manufacture, the materials used, and so on. As the item moves through the supply chain, the RFID tag is scanned and updated through custom data processing software.
RFID tags are a new form of technology many designers are integrating as a way to combat counterfeiters, in addition to track and trace throughout the manufacturing process. While counterfeiters can, in theory, begin to include microelectronic-like tags of their own for visual queues of authenticity, their fake chips would not be readable or reveal any meaningful info in the same way as a true RFID tag from the brand itself.
However, with new technology comes the warranted concerns of personal privacy. Thankfully, RFID tags are not linked to customer transactions and cannot hold any personal information on the customer purchasing the item, nor can it be used as a means for physically tracking any person with the item. Unable to be deciphered by any run-of-the-mill scanner, these tags use strong cryptography methods that prevent such readers from accessing information; and are extremely hard and expensive to hack into.
One fashion house that has been using RFID technology since 2012 is Burberry. Primarily used to help with stock and quality control, they’ve also explained that the RFID tags “enhance the customer experience.” While it varies across the board where designers include these tags, Burberry has shared that they include the small tags either in the swing ticket of the item or embedded in the item with a textile RFID label.
Likewise, Gucci has also started using RFID tags in many of their designer goods, foremost to access information if there is no physical tag or receipt available. Gucci has also been known to employ QR (Quick Response) codes, similar to the RFID tag. Whereas a standard barcode is considered one-dimensional and an RFID tag is categorized as three-dimensional, the QR code acts as a happy medium between the two, classifying as a two-dimensional identifier. Differently, QR codes use optical scanners, such as a smartphone camera, unlike RFID tags, which use radio waves to transmit encoded information.
It’s not just accessories and leather goods that are now accompanied by an RFID tag. As of their Spring/Summer 2016 collection, Moncler has been including unique RFID chips that customers can use to authenticate their item at any point. Similarly, Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo has also been toying with the use of RFID tags since 2014. Adding shoes to the list of RFID-equipped items, Ferragamo has embedded both their footwear and accessories with such microchips, for both stock control and authentication purposes.
The most recent addition of RFID tags is courtesy of the iconic Louis Vuitton fashion house. Now retiring their classic “date codes” system that has amassed a plethora of online guides with pertinent info on how to decode LV's six-digit figure, As of March 1st of 2021, a prominent change is in effect. Louis Vuitton collections of leather pieces and small leather goods will now be embedded with an integrated microchip with information held on a private blockchain. Like other RFID tags, there is no GPS tracking technology, only the product’s basic information. Seeing as the brand has been experimenting with this technology to ensure its validity before moving forward, there are also some items made in 2019 and 2020 that will contain both a date code and an RFID tag.
LVMH, luxury designer conglomerate, has also recently revealed that they have been looking into different technologies similar to those of QR codes and RFID tags. Revealed in April 2021, LVMH, in collaboration with other luxury giants, such as Prada and Richemont, introduced the world’s first global luxury blockchain, Aura Blockchain Consortium. As explained by LVMH, “[t]he objective is to provide consumers with a high level of transparency and traceability throughout the lifecycle of a product.” The same system that supports the infamous Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology was selected for its high security and global visibility. Aura will also be able to prove the authenticity of luxury goods, with an added layer of enhanced transparency for customers and better control in preventing counterfeiters.
The most recent brand to jump on this trend is none other than the highly-coveted Parisian-brand, Chanel. As with Louis Vuitton and their date codes system, each individual Chanel bag or small leather good has always been known to have a serial number and corresponding authenticity card with the same serial number. However, with these new technologies being put into place, Chanel has also started phasing out both their serial number stickers and physical authenticity cards in lieu of an interior metal name plate with an engraved code. For the time being, however, these metal plates are not readily-scannable but they are registered and info-accessible within Chanel’s own system.
An evolving area, more labels will continue to bring on the technology as time goes on. With the preloved designer fashion market expanding, fashion brands will continue to work harder to fight against counterfeit products. As always, with changes being made, a safe choice is to do your research, and only buy products that come with an authenticity guarantee.