How Fiber DNA Markers Can Thwart Counterfeiters and Save Your Supply Chain

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How Fiber DNA Markers Can Thwart Counterfeiters and Save Your Supply Chain

By Dr. James Hayward, CEO, and MeiLin Wan, Vice President of Textile Sales, Applied DNA Sciences. - 03/28/2016
Fiber DNA marking is emerging as a powerful new tool in the fight against counterfeiting and can reassure customers that they product they've purchased is legitimate and free from certain supply chain concerns. Discover how the technology works and the many ways it can benefit your apparel or textile business. 

How much of a threat does counterfeiting pose against the textile industry?
According to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security report, 23,140 intellectual property right seizures occurred in 2014, with a total manufacturer's suggested retail value of $1.2 billion. Of those commodities seized, apparel and accessories made up 28 percent, topping the chart in terms of seizures. With counterfeit activities continuing to cause problems, it can be a challenge for many companies to ensure quality, specifically in the textile and apparel industry. Finding an effective way to protect against ongoing counterfeiting issues is critical for brands globally.

How do anti-counterfeiting technologies, like those offered by Applied DNA Sciences, stand to help the textile/apparel industry?
Anti-counterfeiting systems help to ensure authenticity and provide a means for traceability as products are made from fiber into fabric. For example, a unique plant-based DNA marker can help by tagging a product at the source, which allows it to be authenticated at any point in the supply chain. This is designed to help companies track-and-trace their products, and assure their customers that their products are made of exactly what is stated on the label. So if consumers are concerned that their sweaters may be a fake or that it may not be 100 percent cashmere like the label says it is, the end product can be tested for the DNA marker to see if it is in fact the true product. By ensuring this level of forensic security, companies have more control over their products, greater protection from counterfeiters and a concrete way both to back up their label claims and to track their profitability.

Why are anti-counterfeiting practices important on both an industry and consumer level?
On an industry level, anti-counterfeiting practices help protect company supply chains and decrease the overall property value that is lost to counterfeiters. 

The International Chamber of Commerce estimates that counterfeit and pirated goods and services globally will be valued at $1.8 trillion this year. Additionally, having an anti-counterfeiting system in place helps companies boost their credibility by promoting a trustworthy image.  Customer trust is important because it encourages repeat purchases while also improving quality reviews and promoting positive referrals. 

While anti-counterfeiting benefits the textile/apparel industry as a whole, it is also very valuable on the consumer level. Today, consumers are more knowledgeable about the products they buy and they expect to get what they're paying for. Similar to the "farm-to-table" movement, consumers are demanding to know where exactly their products are coming from (grown or made in America) and if certain practices were used to create them (sustainable, organic, etc.).  A benefit of using a DNA tagging system is that it enables a brand or retailer to back up their claims and effectively market their specific practices, connecting the seller to the consumer.

What are the advantages of using DNA for anti-counterfeiting?
DNA-based solutions can be used to identify, tag, track and trace products, helping to guarantee authenticity and quality. By using DNA markers, each party along the supply chain can rely upon and audit prior parties in the chain to uphold the integrity of the original fiber.  Formulated to stay bound to the substrates they are applied to, DNA markers resist wash-off, survive different stages of manufacturing, and are recoverable after multiple launderings, even in some industrial treatment baths. Moreover, a DNA marker cannot be copied. This prevents counterfeiters from reproducing the marker and implementing it into their own products.

DNA application also has little to no impact on the production process and can be used to mark each batch or bale so that it can be specifically tracked through the supply chain. Tagging can also be done on a larger scale — hundreds of millions of kilograms of fiber can be marked using a single DNA marker, making it easy to track back to a farm, company, region, etc. 

What is fiberTyping® and how is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) involved in enhancing this technology?
fiberTyping® is a patented DNA assay that can be used to determine if a product contains the presence of the original Extra Long Staple (ELS) cotton (Gossypium barbadense), Upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum), or a blend of both.  Since many cotton cultivars are grown in specific geographies, it may be possible to track them to precise locations. Applied DNA Sciences is developing devices to be able to do this in the field, so that fiberTyping® can be done on site. 

A Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the USDA will help enhance Applied DNA Sciences' proprietary identification methods of cotton species and cultivars (subspecies).

This enhanced fiberTyping® will genetically verify multiple types of individual cotton cultivars and assist the cotton industry in protecting quality, traceability and economic investments. The USDA has some of the best cotton geneticists in the world, and Applied DNA Sciences is collaborating with them in the development of "Geotyping™" assays for cultivars grown in specific geographic regions.

Why is it important to be able to differentiate cotton based on country of origin?
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), in 2012, there were about 168 million child laborers in the world, two-thirds of whom were between the ages of five and 14. The ILO also reported that child labor is most common in Asia and the Pacific (77.7 million). By learning where a fabric comes from, it can be determined whether or not that region is known to implement child labor. With this knowledge, consumers can feel more at ease about the specific practices that were used to create their product.

In addition to child labor, differentiating based on region can provide information about which pesticides may have been used, which agricultural laws were set in place when the cotton was grown, and the overall quality of the product. Since the United States has strict agricultural practices in place, consumers can be assured that their cotton was grown without the use of specific pesticides or child labor. Being able to prove that cotton is a high-quality product such as American Pima or Upland confirms that a customer is buying a superior item.  What's more, it's possible to monitor American cotton fiber content contained in finished goods that are often sent overseas to complete a supply chain transformation.   This helps to prevent the blending of lower-quality cottons and ensures that a product comes back as 100 percent American. 

Is DNA being used to protect anything beyond cotton?
DNA can be used to protect a wide range of textile and apparel products. This could include wool yarns, polyester thread, cashmere yarns, fabric selvedge, and woven and non-woven labels. DNA markers are custom designed to be compatible and stable in a wide range of textile substrates and manufacturing processes. From tagging natural and man-made fibers, all the way to finishing treatments and specialty coatings, they offer a secure and cost-effective solution that can help ensure quality and provide forensic-level authentication in fiber, yarn and fabric. Additionally, the use of DNA has no impact on the quality or performance of the textile being marked.

Dr. James Hayward is CEO and MeiLin Wan is vice president of textile sales at Applied DNA Sciences.