Interviewee: Shameek Ghosh, CEO, TrusTrace
To accompany the latest white paper from Première Vision and The Interline—“Fashion & Technology: Why Smart Tech Is Transforming Fashion”—we talked with four different technology companies to obtain their perspectives on how technology is reshaping the way we work in key areas, from design to supply chain transparency.
In this exclusive interview, we talk to Shameek Ghosh, CEO of TrusTrace, who exhibited—alongside a wide range of other fashion technology companies—at the Autumn / Winter 2024-25 edition of PV Paris.
We uncover the nature of supply chain risk, the fast-changing legislative landscape, the different levels of traceability, and what it means to build trust in supply chain relationships for the long term.
What does the picture of supply chain risk look like today? Where do you believe brands are exposed to the biggest threats from supply chain fragility and a lack of visibility?
The challenge is that there are so many risks in supply chains today that it can be hard to know where to focus. Both because of the sheer number of risks present – you have the social risks in terms of forced labor, child labor, non-living wages or health and safety issues, the environmental risks such as carbon emissions, chemical use, microplastics, waste, and the risk of disruptions that
can come from vastly diverse areas, such as effects of climate change like flooding, wars, pandemics, or container ships randomly getting stuck in a canal. The biggest threat I believe is not any one risk, but the inability to correctly identify, measure and mitigate all your major risk, due to either lack of visibility, or if you have discovered it, lack of detailed data on the implications on that risk.
Many organisations are finding it difficult to comply with sustainability legislation because they simply have not collected the data they need to disclose. How can those companies start to bridge the visibility gap and gather the necessary information at all the different stages of the product journey?
The legislative landscape out there is constantly changing, with a vast amount of new regulations as well as upgrades to older ones, and it can be a daunting task to stay on top of everything. However, it is vital to understand exactly what they entail in terms of reporting requirements, so you can start mapping out the data needs for the different forms of compliance before the law comes into force.
If you wait to see what happens when a regulation comes into force, you will get caught off guard and not have the documentation ready.
This can lead to detained shipments, fines, not being able to sell in certain geographies, and loss of reputation. What organisations need to do is:
- First, analyse the laws and regulations versus your risk profile (meaning geographies you source from, markets you sell in, materials you use etc.), to understand which laws to prioritize first
- Second, map out the data you need to comply with these laws, as well as the high-quality data you already have available, so you can discover knowledge gaps.
- Third, set up a timeline for what gaps you need to cover by when, so you have a clear overview of requirements and timelines.
- And finally, armed with this information, figure out how to get the data efficiently, and in a quality that can stand the scrutiny of regulators, which will most likely include a digital traceability system.
Tell us a little more about the different levels of traceability – supplier mapping, product-level traceability, and material traceability – and how they combine to make up an end-to-end product journey?
It is quite simple – first you need to know who to ask for data, and then figure out what granularity of data you need. You can look at them almost as a ‘journey to maturity’.
You have to start with mapping your suppliers, so you know who are the actors in your network that you need to get your data from. Most organisations do not have visibility of their supply chain beyond Tier 2, and many don’t even have this, as would be the case if you source primarily through agents. If you have mapped your suppliers, you can start gathering ESG information about them, collect audits and
assessments, for example, and scope certificates for processing certified materials.
Once you know your suppliers, you can then start gathering data about your product for each shipment, as goods flow through the supply chain. Pending on how you prioritise, you may be content with information on a product level, such as where, by whom and with which processes a good has been made, or you may need to go deeper into the materials to capture data such as material composition by weight, so you can demonstrate the % of recycled material.
What do you see as the next step for monitoring and improving product journeys once brands have brought information out of different systems (such as email, spreadsheets, PLM, and ERP) and consolidated it in one place? What do further insights and automations look like?
Bringing information into a digital traceability system makes it easier to access and analyse the data you have, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve automated all of your processes. Organisations may not have the required data infrastructure with high quality data in PLM and ERP systems that is the foundation for automated traceability at scale. But once they have that, they unlock the ability to track products in real time as they flow through the value chain.
What basically happens is that when you submit a purchase order, the traceability system triggers traceability of that purchase order, and can start at the lowest known supplier in the network for this particular PO, so information gets collected at every point of transformation between the tiers.
This means that when a product is finished, it already comes with all the relevant traceability data attached, which can be easily used for compliance or to share with consumers.
But it also means that you can discover waste, inventory, and redirect supply chains in real-time as you have an up-to-date view of your production. So it’s not only about compliance, it’s about finding real efficiencies and building resilience in the chain, as well as finding ways to improve impact.
What does it mean to build trust in supply chain relationships? That’s built into the name Trustrace, but how do you see transparency and trust going hand-in-hand?
When it comes to trust in supply chain relationships, there are two main areas to consider; the trust in the brand-supplier relationship, which is needed to ensure the supplier is willing and motivated to share data, as well as the trust in the quality of the data itself.
One of the key concerns of brands is whether suppliers will be willing to share information with them, and in supplier relationships where no trust exists, that can certainly become an issue. As sharing data comes with increased efforts on the supplier side, they should not only understand why you are asking them for data, but also that they see the value it may bring to them. Incentives such as guaranteeing suppliers more business, paying a premium for orders, connecting them to sustainable supply chain financing and reducing payment terms can help motivate suppliers and build more trusting relationships.
We firmly believe that collaborating with your suppliers as respected equals is key to not only a successful traceability initiative, but a more equitable industry.
When it comes to the data in itself, greenwashing and lack of meaningful or comparable data has left consumers disillusioned, not knowing what to trust or choose to do the right thing. Transparency is meaningless without trust in the data. But to build trust requires proof. For every story told about a product, there must be proof to back it up. And that’s where traceability can help, by ensuring that was is being said about a product, be it to consumers or
regulators, is actually true. The industry needs a transformation of the current business model, but it’s hard to make big decisions about transforming your supply chain without trustworthy data. That’s why we’re so excited about data – because we believe that when you have good quality data that you trust – you can act – you can persuade others to act – and you can move mountains.