Traceability and anti-counterfeiting along the value chain are also key issues in the textile and apparel industry. It is not always just about consumers getting the right and genuine product. Product integrity throughout the textile chain is also important from a technical, sustainable and economic point of view.
Why is product protection so important?
Product protection has several dimensions of protection, all of which are regularly brought to us as customer specifications: Think, for example, of fire-retardant fibers that someone uses for protective suits. Whenever an apparently identical or similar fiber is used as a counterfeit, human lives are at risk because the promised quality cannot be maintained.
Or protective masks, as currently in the public eye during the pandemic. The masks are divided into different protection classes, without the untrained user being able to distinguish an original mask from a fake.
Our customers also see product protection as a defense against unjustified recourse. If we stay with the example of the fire-retardant fiber, there is a typical case for recourse whenever it is suspected that the fiber could not sufficiently inhibit the fire. With our product protection solution, however, we can still provide forensic evidence of the authenticity of the textile that can be used in court, even in the event of fire damage.
Ultimately, product protection is always a question of brand protection. The mass distribution of counterfeits via internet platforms is a problem.
Are there certain product groups that are particularly affected by product piracy?
Yes, especially if the threshold for blending and interchanging is low, while the margin is correspondingly high, such as with rPET and organic cotton.
The same applies to branded products, especially the high-quality counterfeits that even experts cannot distinguish. Here, concealed markings, like the ones we offer with Tailor-Safe, are indispensable.
Here you also particularly address the traceability of sustainably produced products. This topic is currently on everyone's lips. How important is traceability compared to protection against counterfeiting?
Counterfeit protection protects the product or brand, while traceability is more comprehensive and includes the integrity of the materials from which the product was made. As sustainable products are also increasingly part of the brand, one could also argue that the 2 are congruent.
Material integrity is linked to social, ecological and qualitative requirements to which partners in a value chain commit. In the area of textiles, it is a particular challenge to also recognize the waste of material, such as fibers, within the framework of traceability.
Can innovative industrial marking methods be used to identify products at every stage of production?
With integirTex, Tailorlux offers a solution that is generally designed for traceability in textile value chains. This means that the marking is introduced as early as possible in the life cycle.
With man-made fibers, this can already be done in the extrusion process using a masterbatch process (liquid/solid). With natural fibers, on the other hand, we choose the “diversions” through a marker fiber that corresponds to the natural fiber in density, length, weight and dyeing properties. This fiber is then ideally added in very small quantities of 0.1% during cotton ginning, combing or later during spinning. Tailorlux has developed a special micro-doser for this purpose, which can serve both large material flows in spinning mills and “low-tech” processes in ginning.
For the marking, it is initially irrelevant whether it is used for product protection or is examined for the purpose of traceability in various stages of the value chain. Specifically, we do this in the spinning mill at the carding belt and in the final inspection of a finished fabric.
If a customer does not attach importance to traceability, but is merely looking for plagiarism protection for a process step after spinning, other application methods are also possible. For example, the optical fingerprint can be applied using a thermal transfer print, a sewing thread or even a textile finishing.
How does your industrial marking system work and where is it used?
The technology is based on in-depth know-how in the field of luminescent material and spectroscopy. Both aspects of this technology are tailored to the individual product to be protected, as process-neutral as possible and without impacting the product itself.
The ROHS and REACH compliant technology is based on light emitting materials. The emission can be customized and the corresponding sensors only read the customer's optical fingerprint in the product.
The sensor is a portable spectrometer for the VIS and/or NIR range that detects the specific emission. An encrypted algorithm verifies the presence of the optical fingerprint by measuring the emission curve. The excitation and emission wavelength can be adapted to the product and the adopted detection method.
The luminescent materials are based on ceramic elements or minerals. These materials can withstand heat up to 1,700 °C and are extremely inert.
You have explained to us how easy it is to use this process. Will we have no more counterfeit products in the future? How do you assess the future development?
Counterfeiting will remain a cat and mouse game. Counterfeiters today are fast, precise and networked. We have combined several aspects of niche expertise with our system that make it difficult for even professionals to overcome a Tailorlux tag. At the end of the day, we have a physical proof on a product and that makes the difference to many other solutions. I am concerned about virtual solutions that promise maximum security without any extra effort, but in the end are just the launch pad for high-end counterfeiting. Token transfers via distributed databases, email authentication or digital certificates that suggest the product is genuine without having already taken a data record in the creation, where we usually tag. Of course, especially in the e-commerce sector, purely digital solutions are becoming increasingly popular and will eventually be part of the solution. Ultimately, the authenticity of the product itself must also be authenticated at every point in the life cycle in order to be digitally verified and traded.