Aki Choklat Brings Authentication and Personalization to Luxury Bags

By Claire Swedberg

The shoes and accessories designer is selling handbags with a built-in NFC RFID tag that enables users not only to authenticate their bags, but also to create a travel diary—and track down a bag if it is ever stolen.

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Aki Choklat, a designer of shoes and accessories, began selling a bag this summer that links a digital record about that bag with the physical product itself, via a Near Field Communication (NFC) tag located under the label and an application that a buyer uses to access the data. The solution is provided by Finnish RFID company FinnCode.

Choklat, whose studio is headquartered in London, says he has little background in technology, but that he was fascinated with the functionality that NFC technology could bring to his products.

The Ami, a unisex clutch bag made of leather, is one of the five NFC-tagged bags offered by Aki Choklat.

“I’ve always been interested in trends and futures in fashion,” Choklat says. As a consultant, he provides trend forecasting to other designers and students. The ability to bring greater control over a high-value product to consumers through their mobile phones, he notes, would be a value to designers and other luxury-brand owners, such as himself. Last week, his firm became what he believes is the first handbag manufacturer to provide NFC technology with its products, though a company called Bagjack is embedding NFC tags in the high-end messenger bags that it sells (see Bag Maker Adopts RFID Solution to Prevent Counterfeits, Gray Market).

Choklat offers five different bags—all manufactured in Italy—with NFC technology built into them. A Smartrac BullsEye NFC tag, made with an NXP Semiconductors NTAG203 IC, is embedded inside each bag’s lining, just below the logo, and encoded with a unique ID number.

The primary goal, Choklat says, is to provide customers with proof that the bag is authentic and not a counterfeit, and to enable automatic registration for the buyer. But there are numerous other ways, he says, in which NFC technology will make bag ownership more fun and personal, such as providing the ability to create a digital diary about where the bag is taken, share details regarding the bag’s features with other owners, sell the bag, and find it in the event that it is stolen.

After a customer buys the bag from the Aki Choklat website, the company ships it anywhere in the world at no charge. Even before the buyer receives her bag, she is instructed, via an e-mail from Aki Choklat, to download the free FinnCode app from the Google Play website, and to install it on an NFC-enabled Android smartphone. Once the app is up and running, the customer can then tap the phone near the new bag’s tag, in order to capture that tag’s unique ID number. Reading the tag automatically opens the phone’s browser and directs it to the FinnCode-hosted website that displays data about the bag—where and when it was created—thereby proving its authenticity. Although the customer is already registered at the site upon receiving the bag, with her name and contact details, she can also input or change her personal information.

The application allows the bag owner to create a travel diary. As she visits a new location—Boston, for example—she could tap her phone against the bag’s tag and the app would transmit that information to the FinnCode-hosted server, which identifies the bag’s location based on the phone’s GPS data. The user’s personal diary within the app is updated to indicate that the bag’s owner is now in Boston. Beginning later this summer, her friends on social-media sites—Facebook, for example—could also view this update, provided that the bag owner has entered her Facebook username and password in the app to prompt the posting of data directly to her page. She will also be able to share information with others, including parts of a travel diary she sets up for the bag.

In addition, customers will have access to other bag owners. The app enables owners to share information with each other, and to put the bag up for sale, for viewing by those other owners. In that case, she would use the app to indicate she was selling her bag, and a message would be sent to all the other owners who agreed to receive such notifications. The user can also transfer ownership to another person via the app.

Aki Choklat (Photograph by Ruggero Mengoni)

In the event that the bag is stolen, the owner can use the app to update its status as missing. In that way, if the tag is ever read again by another party using the FinnCode app, the user would be able to view a change in the bag’s status in the app at the time of the read event, thus confirming that the bag has been stolen. The bag’s next location, based on that phone’s GPS data, would then be listed on the rightful owner’s diary, so that she could contact police and report where her missing bag had been detected.

“I think there will be more and more opportunities with this technology,” Choklat states, as customers also begin brainstorming about what they could do with the app.

Choklat says he may opt to build NFC functionality into future products, such as footwear and other accessories. The luxury bags cost £463 ($791) or £942 ($1,610).

FinnCode is currently marketing the authentication app with NFC technology to other brand owners and retailers. “The value for companies is a quicker relationship with their customer,” says Jari Salmela, one of FinnCode’s cofounders. Thanks to the app, a brand owner or retailer would know who has its product, and would have direct access to that customer as needed. For example, Kristian Hyyppä, who operates a Finnish company that imports, services and resells Giulietti accordions, is employing FinnCode technology to offer authentication services, and to track the servicing of those instruments (see NFC RFID Technology Puts the Squeeze on Accordion Thieves, Counterfeiters). FinnCode is presently in discussions with several large potential customers, he says. The application platform is a modular version of the firm’s previous software platform, enabling users to buy those pieces of the app that would be of most value to them—such as authentication, registration or other features.

According to Salmela, the NFC tag could also be read by merchants as they make a sale. This, he says, would provide in-store proof that a product was genuine, as well as register the customer before she leaves the store.