Skipjack tuna at Ambon Market in Indonesia
Provenance pilot interface scanning a smart label on a tuna packet; tuna at Ambon Market
Ask Baker what she does for a living and you may not get a straight answer. That’s not because she deals in obfuscation—far from it, for Provenance’s raison d’être is creating supply-chain transparency. Baker is something of a polymath. She has been described as a designer and technologist who creates user-centered experiences, but that doesn’t even begin to describe her diverse journey that led to the founding of Provenance.
“As an undergraduate at Cambridge I studied supply chains and how things are made,” says Baker. “I worked in that sector for a while before moving out to Los Angeles to work for American Apparel, which, at the time, was cutting-edge because its manufacturing was very vertically integrated.”
Post-RCA, Baker worked as a creative technologist within the advertising industry, teaming up with international brands such as Louis Vuitton and adidas on digital campaigns and marketing. It was during this time that Bitcoin, the infamous cryptocurrency founded by the equally mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, first announced itself as a blip on her radar.
Baker’s vision is a step change in how companies communicate their products, bridging the gap between the maker and the shopper. For many ethical brands, Provenance seems like a wonderful opportunity to provide data-backed stories that we can believe in.
“Friends of mine were buying some of it, really as a funny novelty thing and not really thinking that it would be the next stage of the internet, which, if I’m honest, I believe it will be. I was immediately fascinated by its potential, so I quit the ad world and started a PhD in computer science at UCL [University College London]. I was sponsored by Intel and was looking at new ways to make supply chains more transparent using tech.”
“One of our biggest challenges was just trying to describe the blockchain to people. Lots of people find it difficult to get their head around it or trust it, which is partly due to the fact that it is relatively invisible. Blockchains bring a new layer to the Internet and as soon as people start to understand what it means for digital and the Internet in general, there’s this penny-drop moment when they realize that this could change everything.”
So how did an interest in Bitcoin sow the seed for a social enterprise like Provenance? “I realized the concept during my time working for large brands. It was kind of ridiculous that here was this huge smokescreen called advertising that was put up in front of the reality of what some of these businesses are, and that didn’t sit well with me.”
In the retail industry today, the provenance of goods has never been more important to consumers tuned into sustainability and quality. For example, it’s not enough that we find a delectable piece of salmon on our dinner plates—we want to know whether it was rod- or line-caught, wild or farmed, the exact location of the catch, how long it has been in transit and whose hands it has passed through on the way to the table.
One industry that seems tailor-made for Baker’s vision of the future is luxury, a sector underpinned by assertions of quality. “For me, the very definition of luxury is to be able to buy something whereby you know every exact intricate detail that has gone into making that, whether that be a bottle of wine or a shoe. And yet, it doesn’t feel at the moment that there’s a notion of that. It’s created in this sort of fantasy world where all you see is the end product and some marketing claims, but I think the reality of a luxury product’s journey to market can be much more indulgent and exciting for people.”
‘The ultimate goal of Provenance is that, one day, it will be impossible to buy a product that compromises your health or morals. It will be a passport to products that we can all trust’
Baker’s vision is a step change in how companies communicate their products, bridging the gap between the maker and the shopper. For many ethical brands, Provenance seems a wonderful opportunity to provide data-backed stories that we can believe in. For the not-so-ethical brands, it’s a wake-up call. If their competitors start opening up their supply chains to scrutiny, then why aren’t they?
“The ultimate goal of Provenance is that, one day, it will be impossible to buy a product that compromises your health or morals. It will be a passport to products that we can all trust.”