WITH VIJI: THE SENTINEL START-UP OF TRANSPARENCY
Seven years after the collapse of the Rana Plaza textile workshops in Bangladesh, the mobilization of the textile industry seems more than ever necessary. In commemoration, Fashion Revolution week is celebrated in more than 130 countries in order to encourage those who love and consume fashion to ask how and by whom their clothes are actually made. Brands and producers from all around the world are invited to speak out and display more transparency.
It was in this context of reflections about our methods of production and consumption that we were able to discuss with Anne-Laurence Villemonteil, co-founder of ViJi, a french start-up dedicated to traceability and to the promotion of eco-friendly actions in the world of fashion.
Hello Anne-Laurence! To begin with, can you tell us more about the genesis of the company: how did the idea of creating ViJi come about, what need did it meet?
I have known the second co-founder Josselin Vogel, for 20 years. We worked together in Beaumanoir, a French ready-to-wear distribution group, we were friends. After Beaumanoir, I left to work in the textile industry in Vietnam and he went working in an agri-food company. He noted the transformation of this industry after the “mad cow crisis” in the 90s: the traceability of raw materials has become a real pillar of the functioning of the sector. After the Rana Plaza tragedy in April 2013, he realized that it was also true for the textile industry. There was a real need for transformation, a demand for transparency, and this required the implementation of traceability. It is from these observations that the concept of ViJi was born.
I had returned to France and we ended up in St Malo, at the start of the Road of Rhum boat race. He told me about his project and I told him “it’s great, I’m joining you, let’s go!”.
ViJi was thus born from our complementary experiences in the textile industry but also from my experience in Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility and from Josselin’s experience in the agri-food industry. The two of us have about 25 years of experience in the textile industry, him in positions related to business transformation, logistics and supply chain; me in positions related to purchasing, sourcing, product development and business creation. Our knowledge of the textile sector makes us one of the few traceability start-ups with real business knowledge.
ViJi was created a year ago now. Can you tell us about its activities and its development?
ViJi is a set of innovative solutions for traceability and enhancement of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)* actions intended for fashion brands, their suppliers and their customers.
Throughout the production process of a fashion item (a garment, a pair of shoes, an accessory), we collect the CSR data from each stakeholder, authenticate it and structure it. By making it available to brands and their suppliers, we help them better deploy their CSR actions. By making this information available to brand customers, we bring transparency to final customers.
It is true that the company has just celebrated its one year anniversary. The first year was dedicated to the development of the first versions of our data collection, storage, structuring and dissemination solutions. There are 4 functional solutions to date:
- the data collection, storage and structuring platform;
- the ViJi app: in a scan of the barcode of the price label, you access the CSR information of the coveted fashion item (downloadable from the Android and IOS app stores);
- the plug-in: in one click from the brand’s merchant site, you access this same information from the product sheets;
- the showcase website: ViJi
Your objective could have been that of constituting a simple directory denouncing the lack of ethics of companies in the sector, but this is not the case. Can you tell us more about your rare positioning, both B to B and B to C and its purpose?
Indeed, being from the textile industry ourselves, we know how difficult it is for brands in this sector to adapt to new market requirements.
ViJi Mobile App – Commitments
No one is and has the obligation to be perfect! The same goes for fashion brands: whether it’s a brand new eco-responsible pure-player brand, a mass market brand or even a luxury brand, everyone is committed to its own CSR path. Let’s already take an image at a given time of this path before considering deploying our CSR approach. We preferred a positive approach to support brands and highlight all the eco-responsible actions already started, rather than a guilty and pessimistic approach which points out the faults and could discourage most of the players in the textile industry.
To regain consumer confidence and respond to new legislation in force, brands must commit to or continue their actions of traceability and transparency. For this, they need to be assisted in the collection, storage and structuring of their CSR data. In this busy fashion market, fashion brands and consumers need a neutral and trusted third party more than ever. ViJi is a real growth lever in brands’ CSR actions (BtoB) and allows these actions to be valued in the consumer purchasing journey (BtoC).
By stimulating the CSR approach of industry players we believe we can reduce the negative social and environmental impact of the fashion industry.
Where does your information about business operations come from and how do you guarantee its reliability?
Thanks to a web platform, each stakeholder in the supply chain can enter general information concerning them and CSR information related to the production stage in which they are involved in a given item. This information is of 3 types:
- First declared by the brand or the supplier,
- Secondly, proven if a proof document is attached to the declaration,
- Then, authenticated if the document could be identified as “real” by ViJi tools.
Several technologies are being developed to authenticate documents. Blockchain is one of these technologies. We are in the process of closing our first fundraising which will allow us to make a POC (“Proof of Concept”)** during the second half of 2020.
Can you tell us a bit more about blockchain technology?
It is a system that allows each of the actors in a chain (in the case of ViJi, it is the production chain of a fashion item) to enter data. In addition to traditional data collection systems, the blockchain will certify this data thanks to the provision of authenticated proof.
Blockchain saves time, improves data reliability and also improves traceability and integrity of all the stages of production that we want to secure.
Some brands already operate with blockchain technologies, but each brand decides how to manage its own blockchain … We thus wish to build a standard for the entire textile sector, by making certain steps imperative, which will allow the customer to have information which comes from a neutral third party.
Who are your customers now? What have you been able to set up with them so far? In what way(s) would you like to develop these partnerships in the future?
We already have several customers, including 2 major players in the French market and the concept interests many brands, as well as private and public organizations working on the traceability of the textile sector. Suppliers are also interested in entering the system, regardless of the brands they work for. Some of our customers use B to C solutions, others more discreet only want to use B to B solutions.
To date, all have used the web platform to enter their information. A POC was made in 2019 on the app with one of the major players in the French market. The CSR data of 40,000 references was thus able to be entered into the app and customers of this brand were able to access this information and test the app in store for 2 days. The satisfaction rate at the end of our survey exceeded 80%.
Our main goal is to enrich the services we can offer to our customers. This goes through :
- the development of our document authentication tools, this is our priority in 2020 with the POC blockchain,
- allowing to go back to the root : the raw material,
- develop complementarities with ecosystem players,
- be able to add more and more value to the data collected (that upstream and that downstream).
In your opinion, what role can France play in the evolution of the ready-to-wear industry?
France is the world’s leading player in the fashion and clothing industry, with 90 billion of euros in turnover and textile production will have increased by 63% in 2030. But it is also one of the most polluting industries in the world. France therefore has a major role to play, we must remain leaders in this industry and be exemplary in the years to come. A better understanding of the sector and its supply chains will allow us to move forward in this direction, this is one of the missions that ViJi has set for itself.
Quote of the co-founder Josselin Vogel written on the image : “Every time we make a purchase, we are signing up for the product and the way it was designed. Therefore, it becomes essential to learn about this product in order to make a conscious purchase ”
Josselin Vogel – @vijioff
As a rapidly expanding start-up, how is ViJi actually holding on during this quarantine?
Like everyone else, we said to ourselves “it’s going to be a disaster, we’re going to have to close up shop”. We had just formed a sales team. But we were able to turn to the right people who really believe in our project and who therefore maintained their commitment to us: one of the investors behind the fundraising chose to stay. Obviously, we had to revise our numbers and figures, we will develop our technological solutions a little slower than what we wanted, all this will be diluted over 2020-2021, but it allows us to continue and progress, so we are delighted.
This confinement really brought us back to basics. We are much less taken by everything that makes up the start-up ecosystem (which is great, but really focused on communication and being everywhere at the same time). Here, we can focus on our ideas only and we have not taken our foot off the accelerator, on the contrary, we all are 100% committed.
We can sense a very positive philosophy of life and work at ViJi…
This is our philosophy with ViJi, to see the bright side of things! It’s important to lead by example, to show what is positive by accompanying and helping people rather than pushing them down. It’s much more constructive. This mentality is very well understood and very well received and allows us to work with very different players, small or very large, inside the market. We see that it works and we are really happy with this success.
Thank you very much Anne-Laurence, for these precious and encouraging insights.
Find more information and follow the great ViJi adventure on their website right here.
- *CSR: “Corporate Social Responsibility” is defined by the European Commission as the voluntary integration by companies of social and environmental concerns into their commercial activities and their relationships with stakeholders. A company that practices CSR will therefore seek to have a positive impact on society while being economically viable. (Source: Economie.gouv )
- **POC: A “Proof Of Concept” is a demonstration of feasibility, that is to say a concrete and preliminary experimental realization, illustrating a certain method or idea in order to demonstrate or not its feasibility. Located very early in the process of developing a new product or process, the POC is usually seen as an important step on the path to a fully functional prototype. (Source: Economie.gouv)