Fur fashion consumers are increasingly asking for more transparency on the fur supply chain including information about the Saga supplier farms. For several years now, Saga Furs has been the only one in the industry with its own traceability system, STS (Saga Traceability System). It’s 100% accurate and reliable, but can be done only per sold lot of skins up to the dressing phase.
Now Saga Furs is getting ready to take traceability to the next level with RFID tagging technology, which follows the skin all the way to the ready garment.
Open supply chain
Saga Furs Head of Sustainability, Charles Ross, describes RFID for a retail store as the simplest way of tracing a garment, or the skins in a garment, in a retail store back to their origin. And this is something that customers want.
“Right now, our efforts in developing traceability solutions are definitely being driven by the big brands,” Ross explains. “They want to address the question that consumers increasingly ask: where did this product come from?”
RFID technology would provide interested designers or retailers on the selling floor, whether they’re in New York, Madrid or London, with real time information on country of origin.
“It is possible that, just holding a mobile phone up to the RFID tag and scanning it will open up complete transparency on the supply chain,” Ross affirms.
Farmers support RFID development. They’ve come to understand that product traceability across the value chain is important for their own business continuation. “Many of them are excited when they hear that their products are being carried by the leading fashion brands too,” says Ross.
Getting ready for RFID
In the very near future, Saga Furs, in partnership with fashion brand partners, targets being able to supply high-tech RFID tagging in the hang tag of every garment. But what about the rest of the industry? “Right now, we see this as a competitive advantage for Saga Furs, but once our program is up and running, we could consider sharing our solutions with the entire fur trade – for the good of the industry.”
RFID: Balancing Technology with Cost
Interview: Sameli Mäkelä, Production Director and Juha-Pekka Jaakkonen, Development Manager
At Saga Furs head office in Vanta, Finland, a team of Saga Furs engineers, led by Sameli Mäkelä, has been working to create the right kind of software and hardware system that would be up to the job. The team already has a system for tagging each skin with a specific or unique ID to be carried on through the manufacturing process. However, the main sticking point is the fur dressing and dying phase. This involves high temperatures and a lot of manual pounding, twisted and pressing to soften the leather.
“If the embedded chips are in the way they get cracked,” Mäkelä explains, describing one tanning process using spinning blades like axes. “That destroys the tags very effectively,” he says grimly.
The challenge is in the cost
Yet the problem is not so much the technology. RFID exists and it works. “We could make something bomb proof if we wanted,” jokes Juha-Pekka Jaakkonen, Development Manager of the project, “but the problem would be the cost.”
Mäkelä goes on to explain: “We have to find a solution for the tag that is smaller and cheaper but resilient enough to withstand the rigurs of the fur dressing and still sufficiently cost-effective for our customers to be able to take it into use.”
Jaakkonen is spreading samples across the table. One low-cost solution is a sticker with a 1 mm by 1 mm chip, which would contain all the product data. These would be embedded directly into hang tags. Mäkelä shows us how the thin copper wire inside acts as an antenna. Radio signals from a mobile phone induce electrical responses that activate the chip and send the information back to the receiver.
“We’ve been experimenting with certain tags that could stay through the whole production process,” he says, “but we’re not there yet.” The team targets getting the average cost to an optimum level of below 20 cents. “We know what we’re looking for now in terms of materials,” adds Jaakkonen. “Now all we have to do is figure out with our partners how to tailor our specifications into an affordable solution.”