Counterfeiters are constantly coming up with new and clever ways to produce high quality copies of fashion and luxury products. Many copies can’t be distinguished from the original products without authentication features. Brands are increasingly using RFID tags and other ways to help consumers and customs officials identify what’s real and what’s fake. The latest technology, which could become a useful tool for customs officials in identifying counterfeit goods, is the new terahertz time-domain spectroscopy technology (TTS).
TTS can distinguish between different fabrics that are difficult to tell apart by the normal eye and touch alone. TTS generates a beam of terahertz radiation, which is a band of electromagnetic radiation that falls between microwaves and infrared light. A sample of fabric is place within the beam and the properties of the terahertz waves are detected after passing through the fabric. The properties are then recorded as unique properties for that particular fabric. The brand owner would need to create a database of the properties of its textiles. If a customs official suspects that a piece of clothing is fake, it can run the same test on the suspected fake goods and then match the textile properties of the suspected fake goods with the original in the database.
So far TTS been tested on wool, cotton, linen, silk and mixed fibre fabrics. The beauty of TTS is that it can distinguish between different variations and sub-types of fabric. For example, TTS can tell the difference between plain and merino wool, natural and synthetic silk. But, research is on-going so the full capabilities of TTS are still to be seen.
The big question mark around TTS is how effective it will actually prove to be in practice given that the TTS catalogue of data will need updating at a rate that matches the speed of changing fashion. And, will there be a global database containing textile properties for more than one brand? Another potential drawback is the cost of installing the technology at customs offices around the world — a cost that would no doubt be pushed through to the brand owners. So while TTS is an exciting new development, we’ll have to wait and see if it becomes a useful and cost effective tool in the combat of counterfeiting.