Auburn RFID Lab director comments on the implications and future of RFID tags in clothing

Published: July 29, 2019
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Justin Patton, director of the Auburn University RFID Lab, comments on the future of RFID in clothing—looking at the potential effects of targeted marketing and the battle against counterfeit products.

Is RFID already in clothing (not the tags removed by cashiers, but tags that remain in clothing)?

Not usually, but it can be. There are some companies that are interested in RFID in clothing to enable certain benefits. For example, most ski lift passes are RFID. There is a concept to embed a UHF RFID tag in a ski jacket so that a skier could just enable the lift pass directly to their jacket and not have to carry a separate item. We’ve also seen fashion and footwear brands experiment with embedding tags to enable post-purchase benefits, things like special interactive areas at a concert or event for customers wearing their clothing items. I don’t feel like we’ve really cracked the killer app for wearable persistent RFID yet, but the capability is definitely there.

What would be the purpose?

Usually it is benefit enablement, but we’re also considering it for anti-counterfeiting. It is much more difficult to copy a fashion or apparel item with an embedded tag, and customers like to know they’re getting an authentic item, especially if they’re paying a premium. Counterfeiting is a massive market, and it’s getting worse. It’s so much easier to propagate online that it is through direct store sales; it’s kind of the dark side of e-commerce. Embedded validation would definitely help.

Could RFID tags in clothing be used for marketing purposes (tracked for targeted advertising)?

Possibly, but unlikely without the wearers’ direct engagement. The European Union requires users to individually opt-in for activities like this for apparel, and some states have asked for the same. As a rule, we really stay away from any type of RFID tracking on people that doesn’t directly or immediately benefit the consumer because people don’t like tracking for marketing, and every brand we’ve worked with doesn’t see a value in annoying their customers.

Do you think the public will accept the use of RFID tags in clothing?

I think they already have. More than 10 percent of the apparel items sold in the U.S. today are RFID tagged, and all the stores post notifications. The average consumer just doesn’t seem to pay that much attention to it. There have been some limited scale pilots with NFC RFID in athletic shoes for engaging with fitness trackers and some other simple applications, and the public response has been very accepting. The industry just hasn’t found the right set of applications that will bring consumers to seek out tagged clothing. Someone will figure out the perfect application soon.

How can RFID help stop the counterfeiting of name brands?

Firstly, RFID provides a unique serial identity to the item that can be traced back to source at the factory, which is a huge step in the right direction to start with. Secondly, it’s very difficult and expensive to copy or counterfeit RFID tags if they’re properly locked and encoded. There’s some really interesting current deployments of RFID for anti-counterfeiting, with companies like Luxottica and Prevagen leading the way. It works very well, and we’re going to see more of that in the future. Just giving something an individual identity does a lot to help protect it, and RFID takes that a step further through its abstract and invisible scanning for validation.

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To arrange an interview with our expert, please contact Preston Sparks, Auburn University director of communications, at 334-844-9999 or