Decoding Design

TexTrace weaves smarts into clothing labels for better tracking

TexTrace weaves smarts into clothing labels for better tracking

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By embedding radio frequency identification tags into labels, manufacturers can improve product tracking and fight counterfeiting.

Embedding small, passive radio frequency identification (RFID) tags into product labels allows retailers to quickly and easily count inventory and track its movements, especially compared to bar codes, which require line-of-sight scanning. A few retailers, including American Apparel, have had good success by using RFID for this very purpose, thereby cutting labor costs and improving inventory accuracy.

But paper labels -- either adhesive stickers or hang-tags -- fall off. They bend. They rip. And when they do, there goes the RFID tag's usefulness.

Besides, when a consumer removes and trashes an RFID-embedded label after purchasing, say, a pair of jeans, that also marks the end of the RFID tag's useful life.

TexTrace, a subsidiary of the Swiss textile company Jokob Müller, has developed a system for weaving an RFID tag into a textile label by attaching a chip to what it calls "electronically sensitive yarn," reports industry magazine RFID Journal. The conductive threat acts as the tag's antenna. TexTrace offers the RFID labels as a custom product to high-end clothing and accessories manufacturers that want to both track products and preserve their brand and fight counterfeiting. A retailer could use an RFID reader to authenticate a product with this label sewn into it, by collecting the data from the tag and comparing it to a database to verify it. Items without the tag could be pulled out of inventory and investigated as counterfeits.

TexTrace told the magazine that it is currently working on a pilot program with a European maker of luxury goods to test the tagging system, but it would not name the company. TexTrace is also considering licensing the label manufacturing system and hardware, to enable clothing manufacturing to create their own labels (more feasible for major operations that likely need hundreds of thousands of such labels to match productions of their clothing or accessory lines).

RFID chips can be programmed so that a retailer could set them in a locked mode at the point of purchase. This way, the tag could not be read without the product owner's knowledge and the owner could later return the item, either as a return or as part of a warranty program, and the retailer or manufacturer could use a password to effectively wake up the tag. Then, the tag can be used to authenticate the product and call up its purchase history or warranty records.

Via: RFID Journal

Images: TexTrace

Related: RFID market is growing, but not as planned

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Mary Catherine O'Connor

Contributing Writer

Mary Catherine O'Connor has written for Outside, Fast Company, Wired.com, Smithsonian.com, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech.com, Earth Island Journal and The Magazine. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure