We get used to advanced technology in our 21st century lives, and so barely notice, sometimes, the amazing ways our science can combine with some of the most ancient crafts. So I thought as I read a piece today in a favorite advanced-tech web site AZ Nanotechnology. It had to do with wool. No, not a space-born NASA super-fabric. Wool.
For more than a thousand years, wool has been the lifeblood of the the Pennines hills in the north west of England. The gritty soil of the Pennines cannot grow crops and the grass that struggles to life is too sparse for cattle. But sheep have thrived, and the fine wool of the area spinners became the envy of the world.
Protecting a venerable product
In the 8th century, AD, the Emperor Charlemagne of France insisted that his cloaks be made of wool from the north of England, a hair-raising trip in those times.
By the 18th century, the new worsted cloths, with their long, fine fibers, were a critical British export, spun largely in the area around Yorkshire. Today, it’s no wonder that textile counterfeiters from around the world would love to fake that fine fabric.
Now Applied DNA Sciences is using an anti-counterfeiting technology backed by nine yards or so of patented research, to protect the venerable product with encrypted botanical DNA.
Protecting the Supply Chain
With a new lab and ongoing partnership at the Yorkshire-based Textile Centre of Excellence, Applied is full into its “DNA in Textiles” program to protect the provenance of the area’s wool and its supply chain.
Last July, Applied unveiled its first series of "DNA Suits" made in Yorkshire, UK. Each DNA suit was custom-made from the finest woolen yarn, then woven and finished into a pinstripe fabric, and assembled by a master tailor. You can wash the product as much as you like, but the DNA stays put for longer than the wearer probably wants to think about it, providing a definitive means to match the DNA mark to the bespoke suit. (Psst, counterfeiters…the DNA is in the pinstripe. Go for it.)
Wanted: an unbreakable anti-counterfeiting technology
It’s not that other technologies haven’t been tried. A formidable list of anti-counterfeiting measures have been applied in the textile industry: holograms and other famous hard-to-copy trademarks, heat transfer labels, invisible inks, unique thread and merchandise-tracking technology have all given it a go. What counterfeiter could beat this dream-team line-up? The answer: plenty of them. Some “fake-proof” labels have been duplicated in a matter of hours after they appear on the market. Others do not lend themselves to the regular audits that are needed for supply chain security.
Only SigNature DNA, the Applied product, cannot be broken. It is uncopyable.
Beyond that, real anti-counterfeiting measures demand a program, not just a wave of the scientific wand. It is that program which Applied and the Centre are now embarked.
Recently, the exclusive Leeds, UK, tailor, James Michelsberg , had a line of his bespoke suits treated with SigNature DNA. The fibers for the cloth used to make the suit were immersed in SigNature DNA as they were put on the loom, before the fabric was finished. His suits now boast a unique "fingerprint" to prove their authenticity.
Applied DNA Sciences (APDN) was front and center last week at the The Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) Expo Americas 2012 conference in Boston (http://www.ifai.com/events/item/36) Over 7,000 companies and individuals participated in the three day conference and expo to celebrate IFAI's 100th Anniversary. APDN exhibited in the Advanced Textiles Pavilion and was a featured speaker at one of the breakout sessions on Wednesday afternoon. Dr. Karim Berrada, Director of DNA Formulation, spoke about DNA based authentication of textiles using exogenous and endogenous markers. Karim detailed how 21st century technology has come to textile authentication.
A highlight of the show was the announcement of the IFAI 2012 ShowStoppers awards (http://www.ifai.com/posts/274) for the best of the best new products at the expo. IFAI received a total of 84 entries from 4 countries that were submitted by 56 companies in this year's competition. IFAI noted that the winners exhibited the newest; coolest; the most pragmatic and the most innovative; the most effective and the most efficient; the most economical and the most environmentally sound. Winners were chosen by their industry peers in attendance and exhibiting at IFAI Expo 2012. ShowStoppers entries were displayed on the show floor in exhibitors' booths and highlighted in a prominent voting display.
APDN was the proud recipient of a ShowStopper Award in the "End Products and Services" category, a rare honor for a first time expo participant. Tom Gladtke, Director of Sales at APDN noted, "We entered our product into the showstopper competition because we believe it us just that, a show stopper. A unique, one of a kind solution, that utilizes bio technology and DNA as a forensic taggant in a way no one else does. We were very excited about winning the award, especially since show attendees voted and recognized the significance of our cutting edge authentication platform."
It took only ten days for New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin to move from unknown Harvard grad to international, cover-of-Sports-Illustrated sensation. That sent New York Times reporters scurrying downtown to discover whether the sharp-eyed basketball phenom had been paid the highest compliment: whether his associated products, like jerseys and shoes, had been counterfeited and sold on the city’s notorious counterfeit black market on Canal St.
Jeremy Lin drives on Isaiah Thomas of the Sacramento Kings
Nope, nothing on Canal St. thus far, this writer can tell you. Sorry, Jeremy, we still love you.
A quick head fake
But wait, the budding NBA star is not the only player with great court vision. Counterfeiters in China are used to this and equally ready to find the open man. Can it be a surprise that on Wednesday, another Times article reported from Hangzhou, China that counterfeiting there had already been going great guns. ‘“His jerseys have sold out, even including the counterfeit ones,” said Zheng Xiaojun, a 24-year-old clerk in the capital of Zhejiang province, the home of Lin’s distant relatives according to claims in the People’s Republic.
While appreciative of the clerk’s honestly, at the point the article was written there were no “Lin jerseys” so all the articles in the store were counterfeits—known as jiade, or “fake” in China.
(Wondering why an American-born son of Taiwanese parents is such a big hit in mainland China? Seems that someone there has dug back into the records and found a grandparent of Lin’s, whose background is in Zehjiang province, also the home of a counterfeiting industry which has churned out Lin jerseys in a flash.)
Sports apparel counterfeiting target
NBA and other sports apparel is widely counterfeited, as nearly everyone knows by now. For years before the iPhone, athletic shoes consistently finished in first place in counterfeit seizures by U.S. government agencies like the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). It was only last November 28, cyber-Monday, that ICE shut 150 web site domain names for selling counterfeit goods, among which counterfeit sports jerseys figured prominently. The web sites involved had racked up 77 million hits last year.
Counterfeit NBA jerseys hang in a China shop window. Photos via "Cultural Crossover," blog of an English teacher in Jinan, China, a wonderful culture and basketball blog.
So you can predict that the Lin fakes will reach these shores in a hurry. And it will not only be jerseys, we can safely say. Indeed, earlier this week, Nike announced a new shoe for the sudden star, the custom Hyperfuse 2011 PE, which, as footwear site CounterKicks describes it, “…is flavored up in New York Knicks team colors…” Not yet shipping, but when did that ever stop the counterfeiters?
Is there any answer to this global wave of sports clothes fakery? The phenomenon may seem a classic case of “too big to solve, too distant to care.” But in fact that’s far from the case. Applied DNA Sciences is already authenticating cotton In the U.S. and wool from the U.K. DNA authentication takes on the big jobs by authenticating the legitimate product, instead of identifying every fake. That is a flexible and eminently practical way of handling the biggest global housecleaning. (see for example the tech web site Gizmodo feature on Applied DNA Science "DNA proves your fancy suit isn't a fake").
This blogger also needs to add that counterfeiting of clothing is far from distant, and not a “victimless” crime. As you can read in other posts--tags below--the counterfeit black market is closely connected to organized crime of all sorts, to terrorism in at least one documented case (the 1991 bombing of the Word Trade Center), and widely uses child indentured labor. There are good reasons it is against the law.
Meanwhile New Yorkers, enjoy watching your promising new "1." And Canal St: it's a slam dunk. #Lin-sanity is coming your way too.