Apparel Tagging Moves to the Source

By Mark Roberti

More companies that make labels and trim for apparel firms are reading about RFID and attending RFID Journal LIVE!, signaling that tagging is moving back in the supply chain.

Shortly after I launched RFID Journal in March 2002, I noticed a growing number of people with U.S. military e-mail addresses signing up for our newsletters and purchasing Premium Memberships. I found it a little strange at first, and then the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it was joining the MIT Auto ID Center (now the MIT Auto-ID Labs), and that it planned to use radio frequency identification technology to track goods throughout its massive supply chain.

I learned early on that our database is an early indicator of trends in the RFID industry, and I've paid close attention to the database and what it tells me ever since. Recently, I've noticed a growing number of companies that provide labels and trim for apparel manufacturers signing up for our newsletters and purchasing tickets to RFID Journal LIVE! 2016.

"So what?" you may ask. Well, it's always been clear that RFID cannot achieve mass adoption unless goods are tagged at the source. Some apparel companies running pilots have been RFID-tagging items at their distribution centers in order to get tagged goods into stores. This is costly, time-consuming and not viable on a massive scale.

There has been some resistance among suppliers to tags goods, because they have seen RFID as an added cost of doing business (few have taken advantage of the benefits internally, but that is beginning to change). The fact that more label and trim companies are entering the RFID Journal database and attending LIVE! suggests that more apparel companies are asking them to supply apparel labels with RFID already embedded in it. It must be happening on a healthy scale for so many of these companies to be jumping on the bandwagon all at once.

This, to me, is a sign that adoption is gathering momentum and a tipping point is in sight. When enough retailers are using RFID, it will make sense for apparel manufacturers to tag everything. Label and trim companies learning about RFID and buying inlays suggests that such a point is getting closer. And when the largest apparel makers tag everything, it makes sense for more stores to use RFID, since it's already in many of the items they are receiving.

I believe that retail apparel will be the first sector to achieve mass adoption, but I think other areas will quickly follow. That's because the success in retail will be a signal to the business media, consultants and eventually businesspeople that the technology has matured and is ready for use in many other sectors.

Hang on to your hats folks, because it's only a matter of time before RFID enters the tornado.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.