DNA tags may be an effective tool to authenticate denim. The tag maintains its integrity even after the rigors of bleaching and abrasion, according to a new study by Applied DNA Sciences and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). DNA tags may soon undergo testing at a full manufacturing facility to verify the authenticity of a finished denim garment. The study has been published in the AATCC Review, a publication of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colours.

At the FIT labs in New York, denim swatches were treated with unique DNA molecular tags produced by Applied DNA, then subjected to stone and bleach washings. The samples were then analysed at Applied DNA’s laboratories in Stony Brook, where it was proven that the DNA tags remained intact and suitable for high quality forensic scale analysis. Based on the observed stability, DNA tags of this kind may soon be ready for testing at a full manufacturing facility to verify the authenticity of the finished denim garment.

“This technology will enable brands and manufacturers to track their fibres from the farm through to the finished product, allowing for a more transparent supply chain. Traceability can also help verify certain sustainability claims about commodities and products, helping ensure good practices and respect for people and the environment in supply chains,” Sean Cormier, FIT assistant professor, Textile Development and Manufacturing, said.

“A denim fabric was chosen because it is a unique product, distinguished by its washed styles and distressed look,” said Dr. James A Hayward, president and CEO of Applied DNA Sciences. “Denim jeans are typically exposed to a stone and bleach wash, which is the harshest type of treatment made to any apparel product. If we could identify our DNA markers after this type of wash, we believe any cotton product could be identified at any stage in the supply chain.”

Applied DNA has developed a technology to produce small DNA fragments or identifiers on an industrial scale. Purified enzymes are used to manufacture DNA fragments, each one containing enough information to be used as a DNA-bead or “molecular bar code,” much like an ordinary ink bar code on a label. DNA tags are applied during the cotton ginning phase, enabling the fibre to be tracked and authenticated throughout the entire supply chain.

There has been a lack of commercially available test methods to determine where denim fibres were grown. This is a concern to manufacturers, as global counterfeiting continues to escalate – rising from $1.2 tr in 2017 to an anticipated $1.82 tr by 2020 (Global Brand Counterfeiting Report 2018). The denim authentication problem is significant since most American cotton, including Upland cotton used to produce denim, is shipped overseas and combined with other cotton where it can lose its identity.

“The denim study has opened the door to a world of possibilities,” Hayward added. “These results suggest that it is now possible to assign several unique DNA molecular tags to any cotton product, regardless of finish. Future projects will tag cotton intended for denim use, as well as other premium fibres such as wool, cashmere, as well as man-made fibres like viscose, nylon, recycled polyester and also bio-based fibres and recycled materials,” he explained.