The ability to apply company standards to all products has become a competitive necessity

The ability to apply company standards to all products has become a competitive necessity

Communication is critical to aligning expectations on major and minor defects and producing consistently high-quality garments – and there are three key ways brands can minimise quality discrepancies, errors and chargebacks.

In today's apparel and footwear industries, communication is critical to aligning expectations on major and minor defects and producing consistently high-quality garments. In fact, with rising material and labour costs and a growing pressure for faster deliveries, the ability to understand and apply company standards to all products has become a competitive necessity.

This sentiment may seem obvious. But, if you asked your factory workers, quality control managers and operators, merchandisers and retailers to define what a major or minor defect is, would you receive the same answer?

To minimise quality discrepancies, errors, and chargebacks, you should invest in three key areas: adoption of a retailer-specific approach, establishment of quality standards and expectations, and implementation of factory defect books.

1: Adoption of a retailer-specific approach

While you and your factories may have different opinions on what constitutes critical, major and minor defects, the opinions that should truly guide your standards are those of your retailers and consumers.

For example, consider the inconsistent ways a loose thread is classified. While a loose garment thread is traditionally classified as a minor defect, if the thread is overly long, some parties may classify it as a major defect. But how long?

The answer lies in the consumer.

At one retailer, consumers may tend not to care about a small, loose thread, so they pay for the product without requesting a discount. In this case, the defect should likely be classified as minor. Meanwhile, at another retailer, consumers may tend to care more about a loose thread of the same length, leading them to purchase the product only at a 30-50% discount. In this case, the defect should likely be classified as major.

If you are not clear on each retailer's expectations, how can you relay the correct standards to your factories? You can't.

2: Establishment of quality standards and expectations

Most companies do not specify the extent to which a defect becomes major or minor (for example, the exact length at which a thread should become a major defect). As a result, few workers – from the merchandiser to quality control managers and operators – are likely to have a firm understanding of your expectations regarding defects.

This lack of clear expectations may result in costly, avoidable quality errors.

Therefore, since retailers have different expectations of product quality, based on their consumer base, you should precisely outline quality standards and expectations regarding defect classification, then adjust them accordingly. Also, educate your factories on the quality standards applicable to each product, ensuring a clear understanding of defect definitions across factory staff, retailers and consumers.  

3: Implementation of factory defect books

As issues arise and new determinations are made regarding defect classifications, consider how you will effectively communicate your quality specifications. This may take many forms, but chief among them should be the adoption of factory defect books.

Distributed to your operations team and key personnel at each of your factories, defect books are manuals that classify each possible defect as a critical, major or minor, thereby turning your quality expectations into an objective standard.

For instance, the books should include pictures and figures specifying the length at which a loose thread is classified as a major defect. Then, as quality specifications change, the books should be revised with new, descriptive pictures. After each update, books should also be reexamined, updated and reissued to factory personnel.

In addition, if you or your retailers have multiple sets of quality specifications (for example, one for a mass-market line and one for a top-tier line), create books for each.  

By establishing precise quality specifications that align with retailer expectations, then effectively communicating them to your factories with tools such as defect books, you stand to gain significant savings through reduced errors, chargebacks, and lost sales.

About the author: Jose R Suarez is the founder and CEO of Impactiva, a leading quality and supply chain optimisation solution provider for the apparel, footwear, and leather goods industries.