Producing high-quality softlines should be the end goal for all garment manufacturers and importers. But, in the highly competitive, complex fashion industry, if your product does not meet the lofty industry standards and consumer expectations, your brand can suffer immensely in terms of loss of sales and a damaged brand reputation. So, what to do to avoid this and actually improve the quality of your goods?
Keeping Control Of Soft Goods' Quality Is A Must.
Therefore, it is mandatory to implement a strategically designed quality-management process that is in full swing, from the sourcing of raw materials and purchasing process, to the management of supplier relationships, and ending with your retail customers.
There are various ways to ensure that a required level of quality is maintained throughout your apparel supply chain and to avoid quality issues or the waste of money and resources.
Read on as we explore four proven ways to safeguard and improve the quality of your softlines:
1. Hire & Retain Skilled Quality Management Staff
Although this may seem obvious, it’s worth a mention; after all, your employees are a reflection of your brand’s capabilities and services.
Experts 'on paper' are great, but take a moment to do something that is often ignored in places like China (where many soft goods are produced). Consider how well this person fits into your organisation and buys into your brand's ethos, as well as assessing them by qualifications alone.
Your quality staff, for instance inspectors, are the front line protecting your brand. It's imperative that they remain committed, productive, and immune to any kind of corruption, lest poor quality goods start to 'creep through.'
It's a myth that it's hard to retain staff like this in China or other developing countries where it's often considered the norm for staff to 'move on' fairly regularly.
Retaining them and mitigating corruption relies on the following:
- Paying them an 'above average' salary
- Assuring that their expenses cover everything, allowing no reason to accept 'gifts'
- Offering them benefits, training, and career progression which makes them feel fulfilled and motivated
Training programs are an essential part of safeguarding the quality of your products and should be an ongoing process. New employees coming in as well as existing staff, managers and supervisors should regularly be trained on the principles of quality management, customer satisfaction and aligning their job performance with your brand’s performance, vision and expectations.
Additionally, special attention should be paid to staff members who deal directly with quality assurance, such as end-of-the-line productions workers and quality inspection team. They should be well-versed in your required quality levels and trained to detect quality issues that suggest products don't adhere to your requirements.
2. Determine Strict Quality Levels And Adhere To Them
You need to own your AQL (Acceptable Quality Level). As long as your staff or suppliers are well aware of your quality standards from the first sample to the last piece being produced, you will have a fighting chance of having a production run which is relatively clear of major issues.
You need to clarify:
- What is a defect and where
- What constitutes a minor issue
- What constitutes a major issue
- What constitutes a critical issue
If any defects or differences are tolerable, what are they, and are there samples to demonstrate what is both in and outside of tolerable parameters?
For instance, the shade of a dress may be able to differ very, very slightly. In this case there must be two samples:
- A piece may not be lighter red than sample A
- A piece may not be darker red than sample B
3. Quality Needs To Be A Priority At Every Production Stage, Starting With Raw Materials
We can’t emphasize the importance of raw material inspections enough. You could be working with the best manufacturer in the industry, but if your raw materials or trim supplies are substandard, you may experience major quality issues during the final stages of production. Raw material inspections should be one of the first critical steps in your manufacturing process, because the quality of your finished garment is directly related to the quality of the fabric when it is received.
Moreover, quality and compliance of raw materials are essential for ensuring supply chain organization and decreasing potential quality risks later during production. Fortunately, this can be done through implementing effective quality management systems which will significantly improve operational performance, as well as save valuable time and money leading to higher quality goods and increased profitability. There are different types of textile raw material inspections that are applied in the garment industry, such as 'The 4-Point System' or 'Conformity Tests.' Whichever you decide to implement, working with high-quality materials will reduce quality risks by as much as 70%.
Furthermore, soft goods quality inspections shouldn’t stop at the raw materials stage. Inspections are an ongoing process.
Unless you have a very good relationship with your supplier (assuming you're a buyer) who you know is not outsourcing your production, then quality inspections should also be implemented during the manufacturing and monitoring phase, ending with the standard final inspection and examination of the finished product before shipment. Quality should be a priority at every stage of production.
4. Manage Successful Supplier Relationships
Selecting the right suppliers for your brand will ensure a successful, healthy supply chain which leads to the production of high-quality goods. Identify suppliers in the apparel industry who are well-known and who guarantee the selling of high-quality raw materials. The garment industry is notorious for being heavily dependent on its supply chains. Thus, if something goes wrong somewhere down the production line, it can have a negative impact on your entire manufacturing process. The best way to avoid potential issues is to ensure that you select the right reliable supplier from the start, to guarantee that your garments are delivered on time, at the right place, quantity and most importantly time.
A lot of thought and research goes into selecting your suppliers. Ultimately, you want to work with a vendor who you can build a lasting relationship with and transform an average buyer-supplier relationship into one that’s strategic and works towards achieving business goals and growth initiatives. Moreover, your supplier should provide personalization and customization
5. Outsource your Quality Management
Perhaps one of the most foolproof methods of safeguarding the quality of your softlines is to outsource your quality management systems. As we’ve mention earlier in this article, the apparel industry is incredibly complex and competitive. Working with experts in the industry will soothe some of the pressure your brand may experience. Textile quality experts have years of experience and knowledge in the industry needed to ensure high-quality products, such as testing techniques, equipment, QMS & CSR audits, etc. They work with your in-house quality team to achieve the best quality results needed to remain a competitor in this industry. They also work with a team of highly skilled professionals who can help you grow your brand by providing you with cross-training, support, knowledge, and sharing of experience.
Fore more information, take a look at our blog post on the "Benefits of Outsourced Textile Quality Management" here.
What methods do you use to improve your softlines quality? Do you have any questions regarding quality management or the apparel industry in general? Leave a comment below; we’d love to hear from you!