Hacking Supply Chain Transparency

Industry players team up to find new solutions with hackathons and collaborations

Following the success of last year's Supply Chain Transparency hackathon series, we teamed up with our partners N3xtcoder, adidas, Deutsche Bahn and Volkswagen to support innovators who promote transparency in the value chain with another hackathon. During the one-day event, participants worked together in interdisciplinary teams and a creative, non-competitive environment, so they could further develop their tech solution, value proposition and strategy.

This year, we had five innovative ventures in the room: Haelixa, COLABBRIQ, sustainabill, CIRCULAR IQ and OEKO-TEX, and many volunteers from our partners and the Berlin tech community. With so many players in one room, it became obvious how many solutions already exist in the field of supply chain transparency, for example, the winner of the hackathon, Haelixa Ltd, uses DNA tracing technologies, where tracers are applied to any raw material or finite product. The tracers are based on unique DNA sequences and are resilient to industrial processing, distribution and storage, enabling full end-to-end supply chain control.

Through collaboration with the experts from the different partner companies, participating ventures develop their offers further and gain more insights on tech, marketing, business models and more.

But the story of collaboration doesn’t stop there. Beyond the hackathons, Zalando starts meaningful team-ups with some of the ventures to gain more knowledge from the field. Among these is our joint project with the Cologne-based startup, sustainabill.

Zalando SE Hackathon June 2019

One of the key challenges to achieve a transparent supply chain is to collect data from suppliers and sub-suppliers.Therefore, mapping solutions can help us gain more data from within supply chains. sustainabill is a startup that offers supply chain mapping solutions. By mapping the chain, it lets brand managers look at facilities, see connections between companies and, in the best case, tell the entire story of a product from its composite raw materials to its finished form. With ties to the renowned Wuppertal Institute, in the ideal case sustainabill brings to light hidden costs, wastefulness, or malpractice.

Zalando SE Hackathon June 2019 2 EN
Industry players come together in a non-competitive environment to find and create new solutions.

Today, fashion brands want to know where the raw materials in their products come from and how sustainably they are produced. Mapping deeper supply chains is a highly complex task, which has long been considered unfeasible. But recent technology allows ventures to drastically decrease effort and complexity. The success of supply chain mapping, however, still depends on the collaboration between industry actors.

“The most important learning in a nutshell is that state-of-the-art-technology can be the silver bullet, making the mapping very efficient for all participants. The golden bullet, however, is to know the barriers and to adopt the mapping processes accordingly,” explains Klaus Wiesen, CEO sustainabill.

Facing this, we set up a pilot project with sustainabill in order to collect experiences and challenges from a brand perspective, identify what data is easily shared and what data is typically not disclosed and gain a better understanding of why suppliers may or may not share data with buyers and other suppliers.

Zalando SE Hackathon June 2019 3 EN
It takes a village: collaboration is key in supply chain transparency.

The pilot project consists of two parts. Part one focuses on first hand experiences based on a supply chain mapping of an exemplary five shirts sold by Zalando. Part two shows results of a survey, which is deployed to suppliers and buyers to discover which barriers exist when suppliers are asked to share data and what is needed to overcome those barriers.

On the collaboration, Zalando Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Manager, Salah Said: “In terms of solving the challenge around value chain transparency, collaboration is key. We believe that partnering up within the industry to gain more data from supply chains is necessary; doing so in a pre-competitive space, so that in the end we are all able to turn that data into relevant information for consumers to make the right purchasing decision.”

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