When poor-quality raw materials find their way onto apparel production lines, the end result can be disruption, reputational damage and lost money.
If they would like to take action to prevent this, apparel brands can introduce a raw materials quality assurance program.
It’s important for brands in the apparel industry to be in control of their raw materials. Raw materials account for 70% of the cost of finished goods.
The major challenge brands face is being able to consistently ensure that the raw materials entering their production lines are good quality. If poor-quality raw materials are used in production, time, money and effort can all be wasted producing products that either fail completely or damage a brand’s reputation.
Quality issues that exist with raw materials should be addressed before raw materials are turned into finished goods. The earlier a problem is addressed, the better. If manufacturing begins before raw material issues are addressed, the result will be wastage and an increase in costs.
There is a huge range of potential issues that can come from using poor-quality raw materials. Here are some possibilities:
Poor quality raw materials may result in fabrics that fail when put to use. Garments that are designed to be used in certain conditions, such as wind or water-resistant clothing, may fail
Raw materials may contain hazardous substances
Color standard failings may result in inconsistent or unmarketable goods
Non-specialist garments may simply be unfit for sale due to being poor quality
These problems can all come to light after products have been shipped from factories to distributors or retailers. They might even be discovered by consumers after they’ve been purchased.
A good raw materials quality assurance program will give a high level of visibility into raw materials in the supply chain and put an apparel brand in control of its raw materials at every stage.
To take QIMA’s own raw materials quality assurance services as an example, when it comes to coverage levels, QIMA covers the following supply chain areas:
Fiber production - such as on farms and at texturization units and recyclers
Raw materials processing - such as fabric mill processing. Even right from spinning units
Value addition processes - such as overprinting, coating or lamination
Warehousing and shipping of raw materials
Finished goods manufacturing
Every brand needs to be able to tailor its quality assurance program to its own needs for performance and compliance.
As well as this, they also need to find quality assurance services that fit their needs, from testing and audits to textile certifications.
Apparel brands need to be careful to find services that match both their products and their supply chain.
Here are some services that a typical apparel brand might use.
These audits provide a check of a fabric mill or production facility’s performance in areas related to the processing of raw materials.
An audit will check performance in areas such as:
Raw material handling and management at the facility
Color process management
Production control throughout the production processes
Research and development in the production process
Development of in-house raw material quality management systems
Fabric-specific quality control inspections can be conducted to check the quality of fabrics used in manufacture. These ensure that the fabrics on a brand’s production lines are good quality.
Inspections of fabrics are often conducted according to the 4-point system test. This is a test set out by the standard ASTM D5430. Usually, the 4-point system test can be adapted to be strict or more lenient, according to a brand’s choice. This allows them to set their own quality levels.
As well as onsite inspections of fabrics, inspections can also be carried out for yarns.
Yarn inspections ensure that yarn purchased for sweater or fabric production meets the right quality levels.
Inspections can cover issues such as:
Defects and contamination
Rewinding evenness, tension and stiffness
As with fabric and yarn inspections, leather inspections check the quality levels of leather. There are other things, however, that can be checked as well.
Leather inspections can be used to check:
Quality levels – A range of issues, such as uneven dyeing, cracking or color variation, may be identified
Authenticity – Checks can be made to ensure that ‘Genuine Leather’ labels can be attached to leather products
Compliance with quality and safety legislation – Checks can be made to ensure that leather meets legal requirements or conforms to designated standards as required in the markets in which it will be sold
One key testing service that apparel brands often use is color and shade consistency testing for fabrics.
Being able to employ laboratories equipped with spectrophotometers and lightboxes for color and shade monitoring is a great advantage. Specialist laboratory fabric technicians can take fabrics straight from the supply chain and check them very accurately against a brand’s color standards for consistency.
Specialist laboratory services are a great resource, and laboratories can be used for more than just color testing. Other apparel-related tests that laboratories can carry out include tests related to:
Dimensions and appearance
Environmental analysis (ZDHC program)
Another step that brands can take is to look for ways to upskill and empower the mills that work for them.
Third-party help is often useful here. QIMA, for example, provides textile mill quality teams with both onsite and online live training if brands require it. We have a library of pre-existing content in our e-learning academy that brands can use, or they can develop their own custom lessons with us.