Is This Little Black Box The New Little Black Dress?

Photo: Courtesy of PANGAIA.
QR codes found success during the pandemic when little else did. They replaced paper menus, credit and loyalty cards, and even, guest books. And now, the scan-happy craze is coming for fashion. The little black box is the new little black dress.
Though fashion QR codes were around prior to that, they made news in September when Ganni announced a collaboration with Levi’s, for which the Danish brand reworked the heritage denim label’s signature 501s, among other denim items, and made them available for rent. The idea was that the pieces would get better with wear, with no two people ever getting the same pair of jeans — each one uniquely faded and worn down by the person who rented them last. To share each item’s story, the brands used Near-Field Communication — technology that allows you to transfer information from close distances, like QR codes — in partnership with connected-consumer agency SharpEnd to give renters (who chose to participate) the opportunity to see who’d worn the pieces before them and go behind the scenes.
“By tapping the signature Levi’s back patch with a smartphone, renters can unlock a connected universe of storytelling and information, including videos and exclusive content from the global campaign shoots, style inspiration from friends of the Ganni family, content from previous renters, and much more,” Nicolaj Reffstrup, the founder of Ganni, tells Refinery29. Renters also have the option to leave stories of their own for the next wearer, though it's not a requirement of renting. Reffstrup, who worked in tech prior to entering the fashion sphere, thinks contactless technology is an essential tool for keeping people connected, especially during the pandemic: “It is an effective way to offer a unique experiential moment to connect with our community and directly link them to our universe.” 
Michael Kors seems to agree. For the New York-based designer’s 40th anniversary collection, which debuted in April, the brand reissued 16 iconic ensembles from its archives, worn on the runway by supermodels like Bella Hadid and Alek Wek. Every reissued piece comes fitted with a QR code on the tag, which, when scanned, takes customers back in time to when the piece was first designed and presented. For example, if you were to scan the code on the tag of Hadid’s patent leather red coat, you’d be taken to video footage of Cindy Crawford in the original red coat on the runway at Kors’s spring ‘99 show. 
More often, though, designers are tapping into the power of QR codes to demystify the supply chain. “Through the use of innovative blockchain technology, we can share more on how and where our clothes are made,” Ganni’s Reffstrup says. Soon, he says, renters will be able to access detailed information about the lifecycle of their garments, as well as digital, 360-degree access to global stores and products, simply by tapping their phones on a Ganni item.
Millennial favourite Reformation also jumped on board this year. The Los Angeles-based fashion brand recently teamed up with a blockchain platform called FibreTrace to increase transparency with their customers. Using QR technology, the brand is able to verify each and every step of a garment’s lifecycle. “The benefit of QR codes is that they allow us to easily, directly, and conveniently communicate key information to our customers about their clothing, so they can feel more informed and empowered about their purchasing decisions,” says Reformation's Chief Sustainability Officer and VP of Operations, Kathleen Talbot. “Using blockchain technology makes our supply chain assurance claims even more automatic and irrefutable, which we see as a huge value across the board.” Like Ganni, the brand initiated the technology with a denim collection. On each pair of jeans from the FibreTrace collection, customers can scan a QR code on the tag and gain full access to their denim’s lifecycle, from “farm to butt,” says Talbot.

“Our goal is to empower our customers to make the best possible choices.” 

The ability to build trust between customers and a brand is what convinced PANGAIA to utilise QR codes in their recent Horizon collection. For the collection, the science-backed fashion collective partnered with EON, a products innovator, to develop Digital Passports for their signature sweatsuits. The QR codes, which are printed on each item’s care label, allow shoppers to unlock the entire lifecycle of their purchase, be it information about the distribution centre it was sent to post-production or tips on how to dispose of the item upon its eventual demise. The codes also function as portals to information on the product’s environmental impact, including data on the carbon and water usage needed to create it. 
According to the brand, QR codes also allow them to update information in real-time; that way, as they develop better and more conscious technologies and products in the future, their customers can immediately be updated. “We are able to layer on information about resale and recycling as we move forward on our own circularity journey,” the collective tells Refinery29. “Our goal is to empower our customers to make the best possible choices.” 
Given that we get so much of our information from QR codes these days, be it the appetizers list or our pre-vaccine forms, it only feels right that we’re starting to learn about our clothes from them, too. Welcome to the future.

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