Measuring Quality in Clothing Manufacturing


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker


October 24, 2022


Emily Lane 00:09 

Welcome to Clothing Coulture, a fashion industry podcast at the intersection of technology and innovation. I'm Emily lane. 

Bret Schnitker 00:17 

I'm Bret Schnitker. We speak with experts and disruptors who are moving the industry forward 

Emily Lane 00:21 

and discuss solutions to real industry challenges. 

Bret Schnitker 00:24 

Clothing Coulture is brought to you by Stars Design Group, a global design and production house with more than 30 years of experience. 

Emily Lane 00:35 

Welcome back to a new episode of Clothing Coulture today, we are glad to be back home and we're going to be having a quality conversation, aren't we Bret? 

Bret Schnitker 00:45 

A conversation on quality or a quality conversation? I think it's quality conversation on quality. 

Emily Lane 00:51 

All of the above. But, you know, in reference to quality and clothing, there is a lot of talk about quality and rightly so, it can be quite challenging, however, especially understanding that quality means something different to everybody. 

Bret Schnitker 01:08 

Yeah, certainly though, you know, there are some defined parameters of quality, which we'll go into later. You know, quality, in some cases is subjective. You know, depending on the level of which clothing is produced for what particular market, there's different discerning tastes or different expectations for quality. And so, you know, while there is quite a bit of subjective nature, when you get all the way down to fiber quality of fabric being used, there is some basic quality parameters that customers can identify even know that they're not professionals. And so, you know, our hope is that we can dialogue a little bit about that today and provide some clarity for people that are trying to discern decisions for their own particular brand or line on things to create expectations for 

Emily Lane 01:48 

so understanding there's such variance when it comes to defining quality and different expectations. How do you go about quantifying and qualifying quality with regards to garments? 

Bret Schnitker 02:00 

Yeah, I think first begins on your demographic, the place that you kind of exist in the marketplace, what is your customer going to be looking at with respect to quality, and the expectation for the particular garment, you know, if you're in a kind of moderate to better space, if you add performance to that, there's some exceeding higher levels of demand that those garments are going to have to go through to to achieve the quality expectation that customer is going to have. So first of all, certainly, it's it's quantifying, you know, your customer, and the space in which they live in, 

Emily Lane 02:35 

right. So there's making sure you understand the expectations of your customers. And then there's elements to consider in the actual development cycle of the garment. 

Bret Schnitker 02:46 

Sure. So you know, in particular quality is going to be examined certainly fabrics, finishes, treatments, and trims included in trims, we include the sewing thread and the way that the garment is sewn together, all those different areas have different levels and expectations of quality for different customers. 

Emily Lane 03:06 

Are there standards, universal standards for measuring quality. 

Bret Schnitker 03:12 

There is, so when you're looking at fabrics, there's independent lab tests that we at Stars go through on all of our product. But a lot of the industry does, the established part of the industry, and you know, it starts from pretty basic items like shrinkage, which you would expect, right? People don't want to get a garment or a washer and dryer and it becomes half the garment. We've all dealt with those issues. colorfastness. So colorfastness on a fabric, we've heard those stories, you get a red t shirt, you're wearing it, you get a rainstorm, you jump in your car, you got baby seats, and now you got pink seats. So that becomes an issue, the color bleeds off onto the garment. And that's, in essence that color consistency or color durability, that's called wet crocking in that particular situation. So when a dye stuff gets wet, it'll have a different inherit result than when it's dry in some cases. So we test for both of those to ensure that color fastness after washing, how quickly it fades, some dye stuffs inherently fade quicker, and some are more permanent, again, based on the expectation of the individual garment and demographic. And then after that, and we'll dive into that in a little bit. There's final garment inspections. And there's organizations around the world that you know, in our case, we use UL, but there's very good organizations and we've worked with most of them that provide independent inspectors that will go in and create a test to define what that final garment the result of the sewing and execution of garment looks like. Before the garment has shipped, hopefully, 

Emily Lane 04:50 

yeah, it's good to have that unbiased opinion. Yeah, I think so. So I've heard different terms thrown around quality assurance, quality control. What's the difference between those two things? 

Bret Schnitker 05:01 

Yeah, sure. So quality assurance is simply a task or a review to ensure that the steps of what you've put in place along the way, are executed in the final product. Because you can't inspect in quality, you can certainly at the end stage, once the garments are done, you can edit out pieces that don't meet quality, but you can't really change quality at that point. So that's quality kind of assurance, quality control begins throughout the production. And there's many steps of that, that ensure that the quality control along the way is maintained. So quality assurance is kind of just if they, complete, right? 

Emily Lane 05:02 

So kind of following maybe following the garment more throughout the cycle of it coming together, as opposed to waiting till it's done. It's done. Absolutely. Okay. So knowing that so much of this really lies on the factory, how do you ensure, you know, when you're selecting a factory partner, how do you ensure that they are quality focus? 

Bret Schnitker 06:05 

I think it's first asking questions. Secondly, it's following up to make sure that that's happening. additional considerations, like we have at Stars, we have our own QC teams that are active in the factories, ensuring that the factories execute on their promise for quality. Some of the questions you ask are, you know, how many independent inspectors are in the line, how the lines are set up? And what do they do when a sewer has a bad day, you know, that creates defects, how that's created, where the inspection station points along the way? What are they managing in terms of inline inspection? And I'll use a term that we'll dive into a little bit later, that might be unknown to some people. But are they managing an AQL level kind of an associated quality level, inline, and for some of the better organizations, they tighten that inline inspection to what we call a 1.5, AQL. And again, we'll go into that detail later. But it's a very tightened inspection. So as garments are going through production, there's people monitoring in line every day to ensure that if all of a sudden a sewer is not sewing something particularly well, or they're not changing a needle, and it's creating needle holes, or whatever else, hopefully they're catching that, at the point, reducing the amount of quality defects that are coming out of the line 

Emily Lane 07:24 

and reducing waste as a result. Most certainly. So you mentioned AQL, acceptance, quality limits, again, where do these standards come from what's considered acceptable in the industry? 

Bret Schnitker 07:37 

Yeah, so that's, again, a pretty big parameter, depending on on a particular customer, we've met a number of them that really don't actively inspect production, they kind of hope and expect the factory will do their job. The factory, in some cases, depending on the factories that are used, might provide their inspection, you know, report. And sometimes that's sufficient for a particular production level. You know, there's a lot of information in the industry that quality defects run somewhere between 10 and 20%, as an overall industry, which is higher than you'd expect, but remember, some of those quality 

defects are not really noticeable to the end customer. Okay, so we lump all that in together in terms of things that are less than perfect. No production is perfect. Yeah, we're using humans, in most cases, some some of that's changing. But I think industry levels are somewhere between 10 and 20%. And as you're kind of analyzing that for a particular, you know, got a particular business, you want to improve on that for sure. 

Emily Lane 08:40 

Right. Yeah. So what are some of those defects? Like, what are the various categories of defects? Knowing that those numbers are what they are? Yeah, what are the key areas to look at what's considered acceptable? 

Bret Schnitker 08:53 

Sure. So again, some companies will call out what they consider majors and minors, those are the two main classifications, there's also one called critical. So critical rarely, thankfully happens today, at least in our factories, I haven't seen it number of years because there's things put in place to avoid that. But a perfect example of a critical failure would be when there's sewing and needle breaks, that needle gets lodged into a garment, and you're making kids wear, oh my gosh, I don't understand how that could be a problem, right? sharp needle, you know, causes the child some damage. So you don't want any of those, right. So that's laid in is a critical defect. If there is a broken needle, and that's found in the inspection. Global inspection rules indicate that the entire shipment is failed, and the entire thing has to go through re inspection. So you think about that you go, Holy smokes, that would be a big task, especially on larger production. Yeah, most factories today have what's called needle detectors. So you can actually pass garments through if the needle detectors calibrated properly, and the garments can still be packaged, but you can pass them through. And if there's any metal in the garment itself now, there's some issues with that on outerwear and others, but you can actually calibrate for a needle and once it goes through, the alarm would go off. And you know, that particular garment has a broken needle in it. So there are ways to speed up that reinspection. For the other two categories that we mainly deal with called majors and minors, the best way I can explain it, is that while there are lists for organizations to look at particular defects, I'll give you the definition as icea majors are something that a average customer that is not in our industry, just normal consumer, gets a garment opens it up, tries it on, brings it home, notices, there's something wrong with the garment, and returns it. So that's kind of the easiest definition. So that could be a today that's a little more gray. But if we say a hole in the garment, right, unless it's intentionally a grind hole on a denim pant, but a long story there, but unintentional holes, thread coming on down, you know, things like that. Those are really considered majors. And the majority of the lists that I have seen today, are majors, like, there's a comprehensive list, if any of those happen, that's considered a major defect. minor defects are something that we in the industry, or the factory would say, Boy, that could be better. It's an expert I an expert, I but a consumer would never, ever see the defect, return it or exchange it straight on the inside of a garment that might have a little bit longer thread, not trimmed properly. Okay, right. And some companies, depending on the level and caliber their product, they're going to move that from a minor to A major, there is some movement, but I would say typically, depending on the length of that thread, right? If it's attached to a sewing bobbin, or something, that's probably an issue. But if it's just a little bit longer on that trimming, then it should be a lot of customers would just say I'm going to trim it off, and I'll be fine. Right? So 

those are really considered minor. So those are the three major categories in a quality assurance inspection that occurs. 

Emily Lane 12:13 

I've had, you know, with you having that expert eye as a shopper that's really changed the way that you buy garments. 

Bret Schnitker 12:21 

I would say the biggest thing that I noticed today, certainly I would notice some defects, I don't go on the inside and look at things because there is no such thing as a perfect garment today, it doesn't exist, perfect production is not a reality, okay, there's always I could find a defect in almost every garment that exists. Mine really comes down to fabrication, that's kind of the hidden quality conversation that people don't really dive into too much. And that's where that subjectivity exists. So if I pick it up, and I see discoloration and the dyeing, some people might not notice that I certainly do if the tactile hand is really dry, if I see uneven surface in terms of, you know, pilling due to less quality cotton yarns or different fibers. Those are the things I really pick up on after the years that I appreciate. If it's done well, 

Emily Lane 13:09 

right, based on the category of garment does that change the way that you would measure defects or quality? 

Bret Schnitker 13:19 

I would tell you that majors and minors today, for anyone that's doing active inspections, these kinds of majors have minor defects in terms of sewing or holes, or slubs, or flaws, or whatever else are pretty universal, even quote discount stores that are doing mass production and pretty well organized. They have manuals, and they call it those majors or minors, they might be more relaxed. If there's a fabric slub or flaw and it's not in the front quadrant, we call this kind of the the most important quadrant which is on the front visible to the consumer, maybe it's on the back tail, they might have some relaxed rules about fabric flaws, that upper end brands moderate to better brands might not. So I would say that, you know, in that respect, there's some movement in conversation about quality. 

Emily Lane 14:09 

Are there any common misconceptions that people might have thinking that if they see this particular thing, they think it's a major defect and it's really not or vice versa? 

Bret Schnitker 14:21 

That's a good question too. 

Emily Lane 14:26 

See is all about quality conversations here. 

Bret Schnitker 14:29 

Yeah, I can I can certainly I can think back to a few case examples. So there was a big trend today with or last few years, quite a few years in burnout. So burnout is a technique that you have a blend of cotton and a poly blend and you take a certain chemical process and you can actually burn out cotton or you can burn out Polly and it gives this very distressed low. Yeah, really nice Handfield so it can feel kind of a distressed look, fashion kind of step and depending on the level of call on which one you're burning out and the amount that you're burning out, what is leftover because it continues to happen throughout the life of the garment on our shirt is these little fluffs of fiber, because you've actually damaged the construction of the garment. So over the life of the garment that this continues to fall out, over washing, and when you pull it on, there have been situations people pull it on, they see as little fuzz and like, wow, that's an issue. But it's actually kind of the result of the aesthetic part of the aesthetic and part of the result. But you can understand there's a bunch of that fuzz, and it's red, people might be concerned. And there's probably a number of examples like that. pigment, dyed garment wash kind of things. If there's uneven color, in pigment dye garment wash, the intent is to be discolored. Right? And so those things in general are going some customers, they say, Oh, that's so uneven. And you're like, well, that's kind of the creation of the design for it. Are there 

Emily Lane 15:59 

any other insights that would be valuable in this conversation? 

Bret Schnitker 16:04 

I think in the end inspections when you're running general AQL tables, and we'll probably have a download for that 

Emily Lane 16:11 

we do in fact, we have a download that shares kind of outlines some standards, points of inspection, defects, benchmarks, and some example of opportunities that are being measured and so forth. 

Bret Schnitker 16:22 

Yeah, I think that that's important. I think when you're taking a look at quality, understanding what you know, the major industry players view quality levels, like what is an AQL table? Because a lot of people don't understand it. And they won't tell they look at it. How we moved from an AQL and majors at 2.5 and minors at 4.0. What's a AQL? Level table? Level two? What does that mean? What's the sample size? What's the expectation of the percent of defects in a shipment, all of those things can become a lot more readily apparent when you start to look at a true kind of overall AQL table and take a look at some of the detail there. And I think it prepares brands and retailers etc, that aren't familiar with AQL, what to expect and what to request when they they start to implement quality assurance programs. And then certainly, I think, super important to that the factory with quality control. Because if you have a factory that's not producing something well, and you think you're just buying it cheaper the result at a one to five star society like today, we have immediate feedback. So if the customer is not happy, then you're going to have major issues, it's hard to overcome a one to two star rating when you're selling things online in the old days. And I mean old days, you know, there, there really wasn't a lot of formation and quality levels. And you'd get all sorts of things. But it was one customer that might be dissatisfied. And other customers, there's not this community of a jurors, in terms of quality as there is today. 

Emily Lane 17:55 

Yeah, I can see the real importance of having processes in place, especially because it's not like it's really easy to hop on a plane and go, you know, check the factory in while the production is happening and so forth, catching. Well, making sure you've got the right partnerships in place good processes to measure it are just vital to the success of the entire program, especially today. 

Emily Lane 18:14 

And I think in some cases, people that are just stepping in the business, they kind of oversimplify manufacturing, I can go to this particular online site, and Bob makes knit garments, and I'm gonna go place it with Bob, and I'm gonna get what I expect. You've got to lay in very clear directions with what we call tech packs. And for those in the industry, they're going to be fully familiar with those, making sure those tech packs are detailed enough that you're outlining the parameters in which you expect the result to be and then implementing quality along the way. So that the assurance is going to come out the way that you want it and making sure that you're partnering with people that have experience and have success along the way with quality. 

Emily Lane 18:59 

Yeah, there's a lot to consider a lot of terms that you tossed out today that you know, even though I'm in the industry and hear this in conversation nearly daily, there's still things that can be challenging to get your brain around. So we do have that download that's available that kind of walks through in great detail. Of course if you have any questions, please feel free to reach on out. And also, you know, make sure to subscribe to stay apprised of upcoming episodes of Clothing Coulture. 

Bret Schnitker 19:26 

Thank you 

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Measuring Quality in Clothing Manufacturing