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The Ultimate Guide to Producing High Quality Softlines in the Fashion Industry

The retail industry is one of the largest, most diversified industries in the world and is comprised of two primary forms of merchandise, namely hardlines and softlines. The global apparel market is valued at 842.7 billion dollars in 2016, up 5.5% from 2015 and constitutes 2 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product.








Hardlines or ‘hard goods’ are literally hard products and can be viewed as non-personal items such as appliances, electronics, and sporting equipment. On the other hand, softlines or ‘soft goods’ are literally soft products such as clothes, apparel, accessories, footwear, and linen. Softline retailers are specialty companies that manufacture only soft goods in the fashion industry. Since these items are a lot smaller and easier to display than hardlines, it gives retailers more flexibility when it comes to visual merchandising.

Doing business in the fashion industry is not for the faint-hearted. It is a highly competitive and fragmented industry to work in, and not all brands make it out on top. Brands are challenged to continually stay up to date with the changing trends in the industry and adapt to the changes in consumer demands more quickly.

Linen Factory

Buyers, fashion designers and brand owners are expected to predict upcoming trends, and with the rise of the conscious consumer, explore sustainable alternatives. As fast fashion has drastically increased over the last few years, brands are expected to produce quality products that are compliant in record time.

This ever-changing market increases the level of competition amongst designers, manufacturers, distributors, importers, licensors, and retailers in the fight to survive in this cut-throat industry.

Even though the nature of this industry is highly competitive, it can also be regarded as one of the most rewarding and glamorous sectors to work in. Whether you’re looking to get your foot in the door, or looking for ways to scale your brand, there are many factors to consider.

In this article, we explore various topics such as safeguarding your quality, understanding the cost of quality, how to manage supplier relationships, ethical sourcing, sustainable fashion, outsourcing your quality and more.


This is Your Ultimate Guide to Producing High Quality Softlines in The Fashion Industry.

1.) How to Safeguard the Quality of Your Softlines

The end goal for all garment manufacturing processes is to meet the quality standards and expectations of consumer demands by producing softlines that are of the highest quality.

Due to the highly competitive, complex nature of the fashion industry, brands have to strategically implement effective quality management systems to avoid suffering in terms of loss in sales, damaged reputations, and falling behind their competition. Therefore, ensuring quality assurance for your softlines is very important.

How to Safeguard the Quality of Your Softlines

Quality Assurance for Softlines

Quality assurance (QA) is comprised of all the planned, systematic operations which are put into place to produce a product that successfully satisfies the provided requirements of the brand and it’s customers.

QA sees to it that a reliable, high-quality product is the result in the end of the manufacturing process. It is a very important part of softlines quality management. Without it, a consistent level of quality won’t be maintained during the different stages of production, and the risks of poor quality are high.

It’s important to remember that quality assurance and quality control (QC) are not the same thing. Quality assurance is process focused, while quality control is an aspect of quality assurance and is product focused.


QC consists of various activities which are implemented to identify and correct any defects found during the final production phase before they are released. Therefore, QA is a proactive quality process, focused on preventing quality problems, and QC is a reactive quality process focused on fixing quality errors.

These quality management systems are particularly important in the garment industry due to its complex supply chain, as softlines are produced at an incredible speed, making the margin for error remarkably high.

Due to the onset of the Digital Revolution, making information accessible at the touch of a button, consumers have become a lot more quality and ethically conscious. This means that the manufacturing of high-quality products that have preferably been ethically sourced has become a priority for brands, rather than a mere consideration. We dive deeper into the world of ethical fashion later on this page.

Raw Material Inspections for Softlines Help Safeguard Quality.

Quality management is an ongoing process, occurring at every phase of the entire manufacturing operation and should never end. It starts at the development stage and ends with happy customers.

The final product is directly related to the quality of the fabric received. Therefore, if quality management of raw materials is not efficiently implemented, defective, non-performing or non-compliant raw materials will be used to manufacture softlines, which in turn will lead to quality errors later down the production line. These quality errors are incredibly costly and could easily have been avoided by conducting raw material inspections.

In the garment industry, various raw material inspections are applied including The 4-Point System and Acceptable Quality Level for your softlines.

2.) The Importance of Understanding the Cost of Quality

As the Information Age is in full swing, consumers have started to change their behavior, practicing brand promiscuity as they prefer to shop across market segments rather than staying loyal to a particular brand.

Their purchases are driven by personalization, customization, authenticity, sustainability, and quality. It has become harder for brands to predict their behavior. To avoid the risk of falling behind in this competitive landscape, brands are under pressure to keep costs low while increasing quality.

The Importance of Understanding the Cost of Quality

Therefore, understanding the cost of quality is crucial, and not doing so can severly hurt your brand.

The Cost of Quality (COQ)

The COQ can be referred to as the money a factory spends on garment and material inspections, quality personnel training and the cost of labor for repair work to ensure that products meet acceptable quality standards. In other words, it is the total sum of expenses incurred to prevent non-conformance from happening.

It helps your brand determine what the extent and costs of resources and processes are which are implemented to avoid quality issues. The COQ can be divided into the Cost of Good Quality, which branches into Prevention and Appraisal Costs and the Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ) which branches into Internal and External Failure Costs.

Understanding the Cost of Quality in the Apparel Industry

The Cost of achieving Good Quality:


Prevention costs

refer to the cost of all activities implemented, specifically to prevent poor quality issues. These costs are incurred to keep appraisal and failure costs to a minimum and takes place before any of the operations begin.


Some examples include:

  • Quality improvement team meetings
  • Quality improvement projects
  • Quality education and training
  • Supplier review
  • Pre-production sample and process design
  • Error proofing
  • Capabilities evaluation

Appraisal costs

are connected to the measuring, monitoring, and auditing of activities which are related to quality. These are the costs involved with having the purchased material, products, services and processes evaluated by the suppliers and customers to ensure they adhere to the relevant quality specifications which lead to an improved organization and productivity.

Some examples include:

  • Product, process and quality audits
  • Supplier ratings
  • Testing and evaluation of equipment
  • Procedure evaluation
  • Incoming material inspections
  • Final product inspections

The Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ):


Internal Failure Costs

are costs associated with products that fail to meet quality standards which were discovered before the product is delivered to the customer. These defects would have led to the customer not being satisfied with the product.

They are incurred in the form of:

  • Reworking
  • Scraping
  • Retesting
  • Failure analysis
  • Delays
  • Downtime
  • Re-designing
  • Shortages

External Failure Costs

are costs caused by products that fail to meet quality standards and are discovered after the delivery of goods to external customers, which result in customer dissatisfaction.

They are incurred in the form of:

  • Complaints
  • Returned products
  • Product recalls
  • Retesting of an assembly line
  • Rebuilding of tools or equipment
  • Reordering to replace faulty material
  • Loss in sales/turnover
  • Customer’s badwill/loss of customers
  • Damages in vendor/buyer relationship
  • Damaged brand reputation
  • Production slowdown

In the past, quality managers associated the Cost of Quality with the price of creating quality softlines and believed that producing products of higher quality equaled to increased costs. It has however been proved in 1951 by quality gurus Dr. Joseph Juran and Armand V. Feigenbaum that the cost of poor quality is far greater than the cost of quality implementation and improvement.

For example, if a defect is detected during the inspection process, the cost of rectifying and reworking the faulty garments will lead to an increase in production costs and a decrease in profit. Correcting a defect in the customer phase is 5 times greater than it is at the merchandise development or manufacturing phase.

Moreover, research shows that the cost of poor quality can range from 10% - 40% of business costs. For example, if a successful fashion brand has an annual revenue of $100M, poor quality will add up to $20M each year, or $77,000 for each day during the workweek!


Therefore, measuring your internal failure costs, appraisal costs and preventive costs is the first step in identifying areas for improvement and opportunity to add value for your consumers while reducing costs, remaining competitive and increasing your Return on Investment (ROI).

3.) Managing Supplier Relationships

Supplier relationships, particularly in the apparel industry, can often be complicated and overly formal. Brands no longer manage their entire manufacturing processes alone, but extend their supply networks around the world to keep their costs low and maximise their time, money and resources.

Therefore, managing supplier relationships effectively is crucial for running a successful business and staying ahead of your competition. It’s important to take the time to carefully nurture your buyer-supplier relationships and develop them into a mutually beneficial relationship which can often lead to favorable prices, improved availability, generous terms and you may even benefit from the occasional buyback. Both parties’ needs have to be met at all times to foster a positive, long-lasting relationship.


While it is important to work with reputable suppliers to ensure supply chain excellence, it is just as important to establish credibility with your suppliers. In fact, establishing credibility with your stakeholders is one of the most valuable assets your brand can have.

4.) Why Sustainable Fashion is Important

The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter after oil, and accounts for 2% of the world’s GDP.

Did you know that it takes about 2,700 liters of water to produce one shirt made of Cotton? About 60% of the world's total cotton harvest is used for clothing production in the textile industry and is responsible for millions of people’s livelihoods across the globe. The natural fiber, cotton, is responsible for many toxins being released into waterways and the air due to the harmful pesticides used during production. It is the most chemically dependent crop in the world. Moreover, polyester is a synthetic fiber used to produce softlines and is highly dependant on the diminishing oil and gas reserves.


Additionally, global garment production is reaching its physical limit as it is set to increase by 63% by 2030. According to Greenpeace International, in 2015 nearly 80 billion cubic meters of fresh water was consumed while the fashion industry emitted over a million tons of carbon dioxide. In addition to this, the fashion industry was responsible for the production of 92 million tons of waste.

These statistics are no longer being ignored, and alternatives to traditional cotton and other harmful materials are being used, such as Fairtrade Cotton. It is evident that Mother Earth is buckling under the pressure of increased consumer demands and consumption. Therefore, textile production has had to be reassessed and the time sustainable fashion is now. A few alternative materials have started to emerge in the textile industry.

Ethical Sourcing

Ethical sourcing is defined as the process of ensuring that all raw materials and products used in one’s manufacturing process are required responsibly and sustainably, while making sure that workers can enjoy a safe working environment and are treated fairly. There are a number of brands going the extra mile to ensure ethical sourcing.

How successful apparel brands do it

As a brand owner, you need to start considering ways of including sustainable alternatives in your supply chain. Establishing your business as an ethical fashion brand means that protecting the earth and minimizing the environmental impact of your softlines production is your number one priority. Running a fashion brand, let alone an ethical one, is extremely challenging, but there are many benefits involved. The industry is rife with competition, but, working with like-minded individuals including your customers towards a more sustainable future for all is a win in itself.

5.) CSR and Social Compliance: What You Need to Know

In the past, a fashion brand’s marketing strategy, logo, catchy slogan and it’s Return on Investment were rendered more important than CSR and social compliance.

Today, CSR and social compliance are no longer isolated from the rest of the organization, but has rather become the center of a brand’s business operations.

Who is responsible for CSR Compliance?

Corporate Social Responsibility in the garment industry addresses the moral, ethical, and social consequences in supplier countries of global business operations. Because the fashion industry is hugely labor-intensive, issues concerning unsafe working conditions, child labor, unpaid leave or overtime, worker exploitation and more have become a concern to customers and industry regulators.

CSR and Social Compliance: What You Need to Know

Traditionally, CSR stemmed from the philanthropic willingness to do good, whereas today, major corporations implement CSR strategically to gain competitive advantage and increase the company’s ‘goodwill.' Fashion brands are now being held accountable for their impact on the environment and are responsible for CSR compliance.

Therefore, it is their responsibility to tend to their customer’s CSR concerns, who have the power to demand that their favorite brands become more socially aware and proactive. In fact, research shows that positive CSR initiatives are a direct result of the demands of consumers and employees.

an in-depth look at corporate social responsibility and its impact on apparel brands

Social Compliance for Softlines

One of the most important steps towards the production of high-quality softlines in the apparel industry, while achieving company goals and maximising profits, is adhering to internationally recognized standards of production such as The SA800 Standard.

However, because garment factories are often located in developing countries, issues such as worker exploitation can go undetected. That being said, there is no way around social compliance in the fashion industry. The unfavorable consequences of not meeting industry compliance standards and working with noncompliant factories will lead to significant reputational damage, loss of customers and sales and will be a PR nightmare.

Even though set compliance standards exist and working conditions have improved, it is still a cause for concern as garment factories around the world are still being charged on counts of unfair wages, extensive working hours, exceeding local overtime limits, health and safety violations and more. Therefore, it’s the brand’s responsibility to ensure that their entire supply chain conforms to social compliance standards and regulations.

6. Outsource Quality Management for Your Softlines. Here’s Why.

Traditionally, organizations’ business models were diversified, and they preferred to establish themselves as a ‘jack of all trades’ to gain as much clientele as possible. They could do it all.

But, after the mid-1980s a general shift in business philosophy occurred as businesses started to realize that it was impossible to be great at everything and that there is more value in focusing on what they’re really good at.

Thus, outsourcing was born.

Outsource Quality Management for Your Softlines. Here’s Why.

Businesses started developing a ‘core competence’ by specializing in a few closely related business areas, and anything that fell out of the ‘core competence’ was outsourced.

The decision to outsource your brand’s quality management processes is a strategic one and involves outweighing the potential cost savings, against bringing on a third-party and the idea of losing complete control over your supply chain.

Although it may seem like a bad thing, this is fortunately not the case, as the benefits of outsourcing are plentiful. Because the quality process of manufacturing softlines is incredibly intricate, the help from textile quality providers goes a long way in dictating the success of your brand. The apparel industry relies on various processes which can be provided by quality providers, such as laboratory testings, inspections, CSR or QMS audits which ensures the high-quality production of softlines.

Specialized Softline Quality Provider vs. Generalist

When looking to hire the services of a third-party quality provider, you need to establish whether you want to work with a specialist or a generalist. Specialists provide quality control processes specific to the type of softlines you manufacture while a generalist's services cover a broader scope.

What to look for in a Quality Provider for Your Softlines?

We’ve explored the many benefits of outsourcing your quality management, and we’ve established that specialists will provide the most bang for your buck. Now we’re going to help you determine what you should be looking for in a quality provider for your softlines to help you achieve the best quality results for your brand and meets your brand’s quality expectations and requirements efficiently.

Taking into account that quality management requirements are specific to each brand, there are a number of factors to consider when looking for your perfect fit:

  1. The quality of their resources
  2. Their time zone
  3. The extent of their outsourcing experience
  4. Their equipment and infrastructure
  5. Customer reviews and feedback

And there you have it. Your Ultimate Guide to Softlines Production. We’ve explored a vast number of topics needed to gear your softlines production towards growth, success and most importantly, optimum quality.

Let’s look at what you’ve learned:

  • How to Safeguard the Quality of your Softlines

  • How to implement quality assurance and raw material inspections

  • The importance of understanding the Cost of Quality

  • How to manage and improve supplier relationships while building credibility

  • Why Sustainable Fashion is important

  • What you need to know about CSR and Social Compliance

  • Why Outsourcing Quality increases quality results and ROI.

If you’re interested in enhancing the quality of your softlines while reducing costs, chat to one of industry experts to find out what our services can do for you.

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