RFID Thread Provides Discreet, Nonremovable Garment Tracking

Published: December 1, 2023

Companies have been piloting Adetex.ID’s composite thread with built in RFID chip and antenna in garments to detect and track even if the product’s label are removed.

A UK company —led by a scientist and textiles engineer—has begun selling its RFID technology for embedding directly into garments, without requiring an external RFID label.

The company has tested its RFiD Thread (with built in RFID chip and antenna) with global apparel retailers, and is now marketing the technology for use in North America and internationally.

Adetex.ID was launched in 2017 to provide a way to digitize a garment. The company’s goal is to enable a circular economy of apparel by digitizing the unique identity of each garment, whether in the supply chain, in stores or during recycling.

Pilots by Apparel Brands and Retailers

The company is now in conversations with potential investors to bring its technology to North America, says Anura Rathnayake, founder and chairman of parent company Adetexs Group.

Rathnayake has a background as an advanced textiles engineer with a PhD in smart technology-based textiles. Leveraging that experience, he founded the company in 2017 in the UK.

The company completed pilots with retailers such as Inditex and Tommy Hilfiger beginning in 2019 and with Decathlon in 2021. More recently, Rathnayake has been marketing the technology to address challenges around circular economies, especially related to identification of goods being recycled, so they can be properly processed and reused.

However the benefits in the short term are being gained only in stores, where the technology can provide inventory management, as well as authentication, anti-counterfeiting, automated self-purchasing and loss prevention.

Capturing Consumer Engagement

While traditional tags are attached to garments for inventory management, they are typically embedded into the price label or fabric label that is removed after a sale. That means the tag does not remain with the garment after it is sold.

That poses missed opportunities when it comes to consumer engagement, renting, recycling and returns, Rathnayake says. It also means waste related to disposal of what is billions of tags used with retail items today.

The RFiD Thread consists of composite layers, with built-in chip and micro-filament-based antenna that can sustain more than 100 washing cycles at up to 200 degrees Celsius as well as tumble dry heat.

The company has been using UHF RFID chips from Impinj and the antenna extends on both sides of the chip, through the thread. A small bump is created only by the material that is built around the chip to protect it.

Embedding RFID in Each Garment

The RFiD Thread can be inserted in a garment during or after manufacturing, positioned in a collar, waistband, or similar discreet area. An attachment provided by Adetex.ID can be used to open and insert the thread at the time the garment is being sewn. As with other RFID tags, a unique ID is encoded on the RFiD Thread chip which is linked to data about that garment.

When the garment is received at the store, the ID can be read with a standard UHF RFID reader and that garment’s status is then updated in the retailer’s software system as received. Partner company Circlolink provides Software as a Service (SaaS) for those who choose to use their platform. However users can employ their own software with RFID Thread products.

At the point of sale, the garment’s thread could respond to an RFID reader to enable a sales transaction without requiring anyone to scan barcodes.

RFID for Self Checkout

Additionally, the thread enables self-checkout as the threads would be read by an RFID reader installed at that location, the transaction completed, and the ID number of each garment would be updated in the software as sold.

A small fabric QR label is attached to the garment to provide access to the same data from a mobile phone, without requiring an RFID reader.

Next, when the shopper left the store with their purchases, the tags would be read, and any item that was not paid for would be detected in the software. That could prompt alerts as well as updating the stock data for the store.

After the sale, the RFID chip built into the garment would continue to store that ID number and could be reused once the garment was read with an RFID reader again. Rathnayake points out the data is encrypted, cannot be accessed by unauthorized parties and does not store any data about the shopper.

If the shopper returned the garment to the seller, store associates could read the thread and automatically return that item to the inventory in the software so that it could be quickly returned to the sales floor.

Tracking A Product’s Full Lifespan  

In the long term, the RFiD Thread technology is designed to provide value in the consumer’s home.

As smart home technology evolves, says Rathnayake, RFID readers built into washing machines, wardrobes or irons could identify garments and provide the user with information related to those tag reads. A washing machine, for example, could detect when an item’s washing instructions don’t match the user’s machine settings, or even if the color combination in the wash load is incorrect.

Users could employ an app to view what is in their wardrobe and gain assistance in planning what they wear or pack for a trip, Rathnayake posits . An iron could automatically adjust its temperature based on the fabric of the garment. The accompanying fabric QR label could be used by a consumer’s phone as well.

The company anticipates that eventually all mobile phones will come with built in RFID readers, eliminating the need for the QR code.

Finally, when the garment is brought to recycling centers, RFID readers could capture data about materials in the fabric and automatically sort items accordingly. Rathnayake points out that today about 80 percent of the 150 billion articles of clothing sold each year end up in landfills. If recycling was more automatic, and properly managed, he speculates that the recycling rate would increase.

Blockchain for Immutable Records

The software uses blockchain technology to provide data for recyclers, retailers and consumers throughout the lifespan of the garment.

While most RFID tags in today are single use, disposable hang tags or adhesive tags, there are some designed to sustain the lifetime of a textile item. These laundry textile tags are frequently used by laundry services, as well as hospitality and healthcare companies to track linens through numerous wash cycles.

According to Rathnayake, the RFiD Thread technology is lower cost however. While he estimates laundry tags cost between 25 and 90 cents each, depending on volume, the RFiD Thread typically costs about the same price as many existing RFID tags. The threads, with a diameter of 0.5 to 1.0 millimeters can be read at up to five meters with a standard handheld reader.

For the purpose of inventory management, RFiD Threads could replace existing, disposable paper or label RFID tags, at the same cost as those RFID tags currently used on price labels for garment tracking, according to Rathnayake.

Beyond Apparel, to Tire and Other Products

Company officials speculate the RFiD Thread technology may work in other products as well.

It has been tested in the production of tires, under high temperature (150 degrees Celsius) and pressure. Additionally, a footwear company is considering use of the technology in boots. Rental clothing company ACS Clothing is already using the RFID Threads to manage products as they are rented out and returned from customers.

Adetex.ID has a production site in Sri Lanka, while the company intends to expand its manufacturing to other parts of the world. It is now seeking partners or investors to scale production and services.

Key Takeaways:
  • RFID Thread could provide discreet RFID tracking functionality with an RFID chip and antenna in the form of a thread sewn directly into garments or other textiles.
  • ID which developed the technology is in conversations with investors in hopes of expanding production volumes, while retailers and brands are testing the solution.