Guest blog: Open data mapping in the apparel industry

Blockchain. Traceability. Digital IDs. Transparency. So many of us in the apparel industry and ethical trade sector have heard talk of these new models and technologies flying around conference halls, as we look to solutions for more sustainable supply chains.

But there’s an industry wide problem in the apparel sector, rarely discussed, that must be solved before the potential power of these ideas and technologies can be realized.

We’ve got the wrong address.

And by that, I mean thousands upon thousands of incomplete, incorrect or varying addresses, differing even for the same facility.

The challenges of bad data

Databases of apparel industry organizations including software providers, brand/retailers, multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) and auditing firms contain errors in the names and addresses of apparel facilities. This has many practical implications. Organizations spend  hundreds - even thousands - of hours on manual data entry and analysis to make practical use of supplier lists. Some brands struggle to understand where their suppliers are, even the first tier of the supply chain where final products are cut and sewn, or assembled.

Software systems at different organizations can’t communicate and share data on a per facility level. Trying to geocode a facility to a precise location with an incomplete or incorrect address raises challenges for logistics, operations and transparency. 

Given the dynamic nature of apparel supply chains, with some major global brands updating their supplier base as frequently as every month, name and address data accuracy is of paramount importance. How can we realise the potential positive outcomes of supply chain traceability, RFID tagging, blockchain and more if we have bad data to start with?

Open data for shared outcomes

The Open Apparel Registry (OAR) is a neutral, open source and free tool for identifying global apparel facilities and their affiliations through a standardised, industry wide database of supplier names and addresses.

The collated database of facility names, addresses and affiliated parties, pulled from public and contributed data, is powered by an advanced name and address-matching algorithm, developed by geospatial software firm, Azavea. The tool maps each garment facility using the Google Maps API and assigns each a unique OAR ID number. Anyone will be able to identify an apparel facility, understand its affiliations, contribute to accurate facility information and use the OAR ID as a unique and shared ID across software systems and databases.

Collaboration in action

Once we as an industry move to a common, standardized set of names and addresses and a central, shared ID, so many opportunities will start to arise. With this open database and map, the apparel industry can move past its status quo of inaccurate data and duplicated efforts to a future of shared, accurate data, system interoperability and collaboration across supply chains.

We are already seeing these types of collaborations take shape; in one of our working groups, major apparel industry software providers and industry MSIs are working together to develop an OAR API integration to standardize data across their databases. Brands have shared their plans to use the OAR to publish their public supplier lists, rather than publish maps or PDFs on their own sites. And NGOs are using the platform to proactively contact brands and retailers affiliated with facilities in their region to develop new programmes.

What next?

While the OAR is in its infancy, with new features planned for release over the next couple of years and user feedback to take on board, we are eager to see how the industry uses the tool and the tangible outcomes that can come from this shared, open resource. We hope the OAR will spark more open data projects and collaborative technologies across the industry, leading to positive, tangible outcomes for all stakeholders.

Explore the tool at openapparel.org

  • Natalie Grillon is the Project Director of the Open Apparel Registry.

 

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