“I’m personally convinced any big challenge and any global challenge we’re facing today, we can only solve by collaboration.”
So says Daniela Ott, general secretary of the Aura Blockchain Consortium, an unprecedented collaboration formed last April when LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Prada Group and Compagnie Financière Richemont joined forces to promote the use of a single blockchain solution open to all luxury brands worldwide.
Blockchains can help consumers trace the provenance and authenticity of luxury goods throughout their life cycle, and help brands fight against counterfeiting and parallel marketing.
“Our blockchain consortium was born from the vision that collaboration can coexist, even amongst fierce competitors, for the greater good. And the greater good here is really putting the consumer at the center, and the planet,” Ott told Fairchild Media Group’s Tech Summit, speaking a few days after she was appointed to the role. “I believe technology, and blockchain technology in particular, is really bringing the brand and the consumer much closer together.”
Ott was previously chief executive officer of hotel group Eden Being, part of the Oetker Luxury Hotel Collection, for three years before founding Agape Strategy Consulting in 2019, but is probably best known for her long career at Kering, where she had been CEO of the Tomas Maier fashion house, chief operating officer of the French group’s luxury division, and a director of strategy at its Gucci and Balenciaga brands.
Recognizing that blockchain is a daunting technology, even for big brands, Ott used clear and simple language and explained that all luxury brands, irrespective of size, are invited to join Aura, whose purpose is to make it “very easy to access our platform.”
Without giving precise costs, she said Aura boasts a “very competitive license fee, and the cost per unit item you put on the blockchain.” It offers three levels of membership: light, standard and founding, the latter offering a seat on the board.
She noted all brands get one vote at the consortium’s annual general meeting, where its technical roadmap is fixed, and that Aura is a non-profit organization. “We cannot pay out any dividends. That means all surplus profit, we reinvest into the technologies required by our members,” she said.
Initiated by LVMH in 2019, the Aura platform was developed in partnership with Microsoft and New York-based blockchain software technology company ConsenSys, and the consortium will operate out of Geneva, Switzerland.
“Our technologies allow brands to create a digital certificate or digital passport for each item,” Ott explained. “That means the final customer will be able to access product history, verify origins of source of material, verify the origin of the raw materials, register for after-sale services — for instance, repairs — and transfer this ownership and transfer a certificate of ownership to a loved one when it’s a gift, or resold to a new owner.”
This helps “strengthen the relationship” between consumers and their favorite luxury brands, she noted.
Aura is a permission-based platform that ensures an important degree of data privacy. Certain enabling technologies, if they are generic enough, can be shared across members who can mutualize the cost, Ott said. “Not many brands know how to handle the complexity of blockchain today. So, by having these interfaces, brands can really easily write into the blockchain without actually having blockchain knowledge in-house.”
For example, Ott is looking into image recognition start-ups, and “as soon as these technologies are ready, we will embed them in our applications.”
“At each stage of the product life cycle, information can be recorded in an immutable blockchain. And that information you can make directly accessible to the client. It’s up to you the brand to decide how the client can access this information,” whether via a mobile app, or website interface, for example, Ott said. “It’s about storing the information and passing on the information in an easy way to the client.”
Only brands can become members of Aura; however, various suppliers, retailers, marketplaces, technical partners, institutions, associations and academia will become an important part of the ecosystem. “I think we can create a new source of trust for the consumer around this value chain,” she added.
Ott advised that brands start by defining their use cases, and then Aura can help assess internal readiness. It even has a “proof of concept” area on the blockchain for trials, and can connect prospective members with founding members to “actually understand how they work on the platform and how they solved a specific pain point. So we can actually offer this sort of collaboration and this sort of information sharing.”
In general, Aura is able to onboard brands within a couple of weeks.
“The really important point is really to understand your use case,” Ott said. “So, for instance, for an upstream case with your suppliers about the source of raw materials and manufacturing locations, this is information which the brand must have before. So then once you have this information, then you can actually put that on the blockchain.”
In addition, “it’s important to adhere to all values of sustainability, authenticity, transparency and responsible sourcing,” she added. “It’s really from brands and for brands. It’s really about sharing our learnings and moving forward together.”