Clothes Encounters: How RFID is Bringing Sustainability to the Retail Industry

As more and more consumers are driven by the desire to live sustainable lives, many companies and brands are committing to environmental values. Indeed, consumers who are more environmentally conscious are motivated to make a positive environmental and social impact when purchasing.

This consumer need for sustainability has led to many companies adopting radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to reduce gas emissions. Initially used for improving inventory accuracy, RFID solutions have enhanced sustainability practices, thanks to their tracking capabilities.

What is RFID?

RFID allows brands to develop sustainability plans for everything from sourcing materials to storage. RFID includes tags that retailers and manufacturers use to store and transmit encoded information for products as well as reader hardware that sends and receives signals in order to accurately read data from the tags. There is also supporting hardware that encodes tags and processes data, which is useful for the end user. RFID is often seen as a prerequisite for Internet of Things (IoT). 

Waste not, want not 

Although RFID technology was previously used primarily to improve inventory accuracy, many retailers now find it helpful in managing waste and recycling. By incorporating RFID inventory management solutions, retailers produce fewer products, which dramatically reduces carbon emission, water pollution, and packaging materials.

RFID technology also improves stores’ inventory management processes, which improve products’ chances of selling. In addition, RFID’s ability to improve inventory accuracy means reduced stockholding and lowered excess inventories. In fact, according to a GS1UK research project conducted in 2018, six out of 10 retailers that used RFID reported a reduction between 2 to 13 percent in stock holding. 

As well, companies continue to adopt paper-based RFID labels, which are made from renewable material. Since RFID labels can be recycled, they are effectively helping to reduce the CO2 footprint.

It’s crystal clear: RFID promotes transparency

Retailers are also using RFID to promote the transparency that RFID tags can offer. Now more than ever, customers are conscious of what they wear and want to know where the raw materials are sourced. This is where RFID technology comes in, promoting traceability and transparency throughout the entire supply chain.

Chain reaction: RFID technology’s role in the supply chain

Raw Material

RFID is used early in the supply chain, when suppliers send raw materials to manufacturers and place information about the material on a tag. RFID tags let manufacturers know where raw material has been collected, where it has been produced, and the production methods used.

Manufacturers and Factories

Raw materials then go through the manufacturing process, where they are transformed into garments. After this, manufacturers place RFID tags with QR codes on garments. The codes provide access to a website that contains information about the product, including how the raw material was processed and produced, and transformed into a finished garment. Manufacturers also provide information via QR codes such as garment composition, brand, origin, care, and washing instructions. 

All of this improves supply chain efficiencies, allowing manufacturers to enjoy precise shipping ledgers and receiving activities, and for retailers to enhance their receiving plans.

Distribution Center

Most logistics centers incorporate RFID readers to record incoming merchandise from different manufacturers. RFID readers can check merchandise details to ensure that they’re correct, as well as track merchandise as it moves through logistics centers.


When garments and accessories arrive at a store, employees can use RFID devices to register their entry. Thanks to RFID technology, employees can quickly evaluate items contained in shipments without needing to open boxes.

Enhanced Customer Experience

Stores that have adopted RFID technology also allow customers to cross-check products before making final purchasing decisions. Specifically, customers can use QR codes to gain access to a website that contains product information, including its sustainability.

RFID can also personalize customers’ offers and recommendations based on their shopping habits. Obviously, this can significantly enhance the customer experience and improve a brand’s sales.

Clothes call: RFID Digitizes the Growing Rental Clothing Industry

Fast fashion, which involves mass production at a low cost, obviously negatively impacts the environment through carbon emissions. The good news is that the rental clothing industry is steadily growing as a sustainable business model.

Rental clothing services give consumers access to similar variety and turn over like fast fashion. But unlike fast fashion, rental clothing services are more sustainable and don’t involve carbon emissions. Indeed, RFID technology is crucial when it comes to helping digitize the rental clothing industry in an effort to combat impact on the environment, enhance inventory management, and allow businesses to succeed. To be sure, it’s an effective approach to helping brands promote sustainability in the fashion industry.

RFID feeding the planet

As brand owners, retailers, and customers continue to seek ways to be more eco-friendly, there exists a need for improved collaboration throughout the supply chain. By working together, it will be much easier for everyone involved to optimize material usage, reduce wastage, and contribute to a thriving and sustainable ecosystem.

 Although the fashion industry is starting to move in the right direction, there is still a long way to go to meet and surpass sustainability expectations. With RFID’s clear sustainability advantages, more and more brands hopefully will incorporate it into their processes to reduce their environmental footprint.


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