Hitting the Runway: Designer Collections with Chip Technology

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip technology is making waves in fashion as it takes on counterfeit goods. But fashion isn’t the only industry putting these little chips to big use.

September 2016

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With the world’s “Big Four” fashion weeks (in New York, London, Milan and Paris) in full swing, dozens of trends we’ll see on the streets in 2017 are hitting blogs and fashion magazines. Oversized jackets. Platform shoes. Jumpsuits and rompers. Florals paired with stripes. However, what’s most striking is something entirely beneath the surface: microchips.

Designer apparel brands, including Italian shoe and accessories icon Salvatore Ferragamo and French sportswear manufacturer Moncler, are now using radio frequency identification (RFID) chip technology to identify their goods as the real deal — and, more importantly, expose knockoffs. Moncler started using the small chips, which contain information that can be read by radio waves, in its spring/summer 2016 collection. That information — or lack of it — lets customers verify a product’s authenticity. The process is easy: Customers can visit a code-verification microsite within Moncler.com or download an app onto their smartphones to scan the QR code or near field communication (NFC) tag. (NFC is the same technology that lets Apple Pay users swipe their phones at a cash register to cover a transaction.)

Adopting RFID technology isn’t only about keeping customers connected with product information, it’s about protecting the fashion houses’ bottom line. A survey by the European Union’s intellectual property agency shows that the sale of counterfeit designer clothes, shoes and accessories costs European apparel companies $30 billion — about 10 percent of their sales — every year.

Staying on Top of Stock in Store

Top fashion brands aren’t the only ones keeping tabs on goods with RFID technology. Retailers from Burberry to Walmart are using the chips to track inventory as it moves through their supply chains and onto their websites and store shelves, giving their employees and customers an accurate idea of what’s in stock. Target, which began using RFID technology on “smart labels” last year, has even joined forces with the RFID Lab at Auburn University. The lab, whose sponsors also include Amazon and The Home Depot, is devoted entirely to research and implementation of RFID and other technologies for retail, supply chain and manufacturing.

Tracking Lost Bags

RFID technology has taken off beyond designer bags and shopping bags to perhaps the most important bag of all — your checked bag on a flight. Even though airlines have made strides in recent years to keep checked bags on the right flights, bar-coded tags can only go so far if they’re wrinkled, smeared or torn. Air France, Lufthansa and Qantas all use RFID technology to keep bags on course, and earlier this year, Delta and Alaska became the first U.S. airlines to announce plans to adopt the technology. Delta’s program begins this fall to 84 airports, where readers on 1,500 belt loaders will scan RFID chips in a bag’s tag, assigning green (good to go) or red (alerting the agent to reroute) lights, so that more bags arrive at their final destinations along with their customers. Early tests show the technology ensures 99.9 percent of bags are properly scanned, something Delta is confident will translate into many happy landings.

The innovations RFID technology is bringing to fashion, retail and air travel brilliantly illustrate the benefits of connections — and how a connected world is a better world.

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