Pop quiz: Quality versus Crap pt.2

Well, Monday’s pop quiz was very educational. The correct answer is “insufficient data” but not for the reasons that it seems many people selected it (judging from comments but even that isn’t conclusive). The final score (as of this writing) was 45% which falls short of the 50% challenge but I made the donation (to Accion, a micro lender) anyway. Yesterday. Before the challenge ended.

Insufficient data is the correct response because quality means adhering to a standard -whatever that standard may be. Since no specifications were provided for either product,  there was no way to know whether either met its specification.

However, it seemed many people selected “insufficient data” because they thought the silk gown was crap and not finding it within themselves to vote for the paper gown chose what amounted to a default “none of the above”.

Quality is the wrong question- it’s value. Consider these comments in the context that any votes for or against either product means a value judgment absent the specifications (upon which quality is determined) was made:

M said: The dress is crap… The $3 gown appears well made and highly functional…

A said: I voted for the paper gown. It has lots of cool features…

S said: I would have to say the “paper gown” will do what it was designed to do, but the silk dress might not.

Some people who responded closer to the intent of the pop quiz said:

K said: I think it’s a draw. Each piece is quality based on it’s purpose.

A said: I know what the wedding gown is for, the paper gown looks like it might be a scrub gown? I can’t tell how well it serves its intended function [extensive good details deleted] none of which are visible from the photo. Data insufficient.

R said: I say we need more info on the paper gown… insufficient data

S said: I voted Insufficient because I’d like to know what the requirements are for the garment.

Some comments had a foot in both camps:

D said: We are not told where each of the garments stands in price compared to other garments for the same purpose. And while one can surmise the use the wedding gown is put to, the use of the disposable gown is less clear, so it is impossible to guess how well it will meet requirements. Totally insufficient data.

J said: The standard of quality is relative to others of a similar type… the price quoted here is not in the high range. So, this is not a high end wedding gown.

S said: I voted for the paper gown because I think quality means consistency to a standard. A relatively infrequently made, elaborate custom garment could never be as consistent to a standard as simple paper gowns made by the thousands.

Since quality is determined by adherence to specification (whatever that may be) price is not a good determinant of whether something is quality or not -although price often can be in the context of competing products; something the comments mention. However, high end doesn’t necessarily mean high quality; high end can be all over the map especially if it’s a one-off [who is going to write specs for one item? It’s not cost effective]. However, that a high end one-off isn’t the highest quality does not mean it is not high value. Value my friends, is in the eye of the beholder.

What I’m getting at (and the subject of my next post) is that people are often making subjective judgements when they make pronouncements of quality. In this respect, the first two comments were correct in that they indicated the items needed to be compared with like items in order to make a determination of value. “S” had the correct definition (consistency to a standard) and while she is probably correct in that a paper gown made in huge lots is more likely to meet specified standards (as compared to the wedding gown meeting its standards), there is no sure way to know without comparing each to their respective standard. To recap:

Quality indicates the degree to which something meets a standard. A standard is a yardstick. Without a yardstick, you can’t measure it.

Value is an evaluation a customer makes to determine whether a product will suit the purpose for which they have intended to use the item.

The idea that value is subjective for both consumers and manufacturers is important for two reasons:

  1. As producers, you must understand that no one can determine value for anyone else. You can increase the cost of your product with whistles and bells but it is a waste if your average customer does not value those amenities to the extent they are willing to pay for them.
  2. As consumers, it is gratuitously unkind to make subjective conclusions about people who have different purchasing criteria than you do. It is likewise unkind to make subjective judgments about producers of those products (see #1). We each have different lifestyles, preferences and needs. To suggest anyone should prioritize their spending to dress in a given way amounts to elitism and fashcism (my word for fashion fascists).

The issue at heart is that people are confusing price and value to arrive at opinions of quality. In relation to that, M.Smith said [edited]:

Are we supposed to be conflating quality with value? Necessary quality is relative as people have pointed out. No point in hand stitching a paper gown as it adds no value whatsoever, so designing to meet expectations of functional requirements = quality? That dress has me stumped. I expect more from a wedding dress because its purpose is to impress and celebrate. All of a sudden quality is looking more like a mathematical equation with a whole lot of social variables.

It would be more accurate to say value is based on a whole lot of social variables (opinion) but quality is a mathematical equation to measure adherence to developed product standards. Value is an opinion, quality is not. That said, perceived quality is often used to determine one’s opinion of value and subsequent decision to buy (but not always). Therefore, one could say the wedding dress or paper gown is of value to me (or it’s not of value to me) but one couldn’t say either is quality or not without comparing them to the standards.

And that is the subject of my next post. I’ll bet you’re squirming with giddiness to read that. heh

An aside: in preparation for this post, I did more research than you’d imagine and found some interesting things. Specifically I looked at garments used in clean rooms. I would have to say that the average clean room garment is more likely to be of high quality than the average sportswear item. In this video at about minute 3, you can see workers who are themselves wearing clean room garments, processing clean room garments. It makes sense that they would.

And now, a note completely off topic: Mr. Fashion-Incubator works in solar energy so they have a cleanroom. He says that even though their average production worker is slimmer than average, the most popular size for cleanroom uniforms at their job site is an extra large. He challenged me to guess why but I couldn’t. He said extra large was popular with the women because they could wear dresses and skirts under them (dresses are preferred for many reasons). My thought was that this represented an opportunity. A too large garment can be dangerous (as mentioned in the children’s sizing police post). Maybe someone could design a clean room garment that fit closer to size that would permit the wearing of skirts and dresses.

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16 comments

  1. Grace says:

    Are clean room gowns made specifically for the country they will be used? Or for a global market?

    I would guess that the clean room market in Asia is pretty sizable compared to the US market.
    And that many of the US clean rooms are staffed by Asians (especially in CA, the only place I have visited clean rooms).

    Could the gowns just be designed for smaller people?

  2. Eric H says:

    These clean room gowns are made in the USA; whether they are designed for here I do not know. But given the still-high number of clean room operations here in the US and especially here in Albuquerque (Intel has a major plant here), I suspect they’re made for this market.

    But what is the market? These are unisex gowns and bunny suits for everyone from Asian women to Scandinavian men >2 m tall. One woman is pregnant, but still suits up. There is not a lot of obesity compared to my last job, but this may be because we have so many immigrants and well educated people (and very well educated immigrants!). Still, we stock 3X. I think that major factor toward going larger is the comfort when wearing over other clothing, especially in winter or over dresses. This puts the crotch down near their knees, which is potentially dangerous as Kathleen points out.

    I wear a L, same as regular clothing, so I don’t subscribe to the larger is better theory. But then, I don’t wear dresses to work.

  3. JessR says:

    The lack of being able to develop standards for one-offs used to bother me a lot in custom bridal, I wanted to do the best job possible but the quality seemed to change depending on how much time we had or what mood people were in.
    I think a lot of my bosses’ stresses were to do with this, it was that cycle of not having enough time to set processes because of running behind due to confusion over processes!
    All this gibberish of mine basically means I am keen to read more on this subject :P

  4. Quincunx says:

    Have snowsuit and snow-pant manufacturers already answered the question of fitting over dresses, or did they give up and figure that anyone mad enough to go out in the snow with a skirt above the knee wasn’t in their target market? Is there such a thing as a snow-skirt, at any length? (Don’t know about anyone else, but I put on extra layers _under_ an ankle-length skirt, for warmth. Not helpful here.) Are clean-room gowns slippery on the inside the way coat linings are, to glide over the clothing underneath, or do they grab and cling? What’s the stride length of a clean room worker? So many questions. . .

  5. kay says:

    Speaking as an old lab worker, lab coats were (and probably still are) typically stocked “unisex” sizing, and women had to buy much larger coats to accommodate bust and hips if you wanted to actually button the coat, per safety regs. That often left women with about 6″ too much sleeve circumference, and often, way, way too much sleeve and length (so *not* what you want when you’re working with radiochemicals or something toxic, and you can catch your sleeve on your experiment and knock a year’s worth of research all over the bench… ) You could buy men’s lab coats at the university very cheaply, very well made, or you could order a women’s coat from one of the supply catalogs or maybe from a uniform shop… usually much more poorly made fabrics, often not well sewn, high prices. I had a little sideline in grad school altering the cheaper men’s labcoats for women. I remember one of my cohort, a short, curvy Italian grad student, trying on coats at Chem stores… hems to the floor, sleeve ends around her knees, pockets at her knees…

    I suspect similar considerations may be at work with cleanroom gowns and women.

    Quincunx, I grew up in the upper midwest when women and girls wore skirts as a matter of course. I remember wearing snowsuits and having a wadded up skirt forming a sort of Michelin Man effect under the suit. Or just freezing while a cold wind blows up. (And yes, I really did walk a mile and a half to school, in a skirt — sometimes with jeans or pants on underneath the skirt, but they had to come off before you got inside school, even at -20oF.) Was I ever glad when pants suits became acceptable attire in the 1970s!

    I didn’t vote — I’m one of those stray scientists lurking here. When I think of “quality”, I tend to think reproducibility, accuracy, standards, fitness for purpose and what builders call “workmanlike manner” in contracts — in sewing that would be things like seams properly sewn, not puckered or stretched out of shape, etc.

  6. Liz C says:

    I was keeping quiet about the quiz, for fear of adding a spoiler. But what I wanted to say was, we can’t tell quality without either a set of specifications OR several garments to examine.

    The wedding gown looked like it had some poorly constructed places: puckery seams, off-balance gathers. It didn’t look “high quality,” in the colloquial meaning. The surgical gown photo was too small to see well, but it looked well-built. Still, without an idea of what “the perfect gown” would look like, we have no way of knowing which gown is closer to perfection, which is what quality really means.

    –Liz

  7. Susan S says:

    I’m in IT development, have no idea how I found this corner of the Interwebs, but I sure am grateful for these posts. Thanks, Kathleen & all.

  8. dosfashionistas says:

    This is interesting! But once again I am left slapping my forehead and telling myself, “You knew that!” It is so useful to be reminded all over again. Value seems to be in the air, as I read a posting re eBay on the same topic. I am, as a result thinking about value and perceived value as relates to my ebusiness. Bring on the next post!

  9. M. Smith says:

    Quincunx, there is an etsy shop called fantasyworldheroes.etsy.com out of Montreal that sells snow skirts. I have one from them and love it (and no, I’m not affiliated with the shop). They close for summer but you can always scroll through their ‘sold items’ to see what they make.

  10. anne says:

    Since when is custom couture a category. Couture implies a higher level of craftsmanship and personal fitting. You can’t buy a couture gown from a manufacturer. People today have a tendency to use the term “couture’ and all it implies VERY loosely.

  11. Paul says:

    Interesting diversion into cleanrooms. Back in the mid 1980’s when I was working at IBM (designing and modifying cleanrooms), IBM along with much of the industrial world was on a Quality kick. The Malcomb Baldridge award was a big deal, and we would joke that to win all you had to do was set really low standards, then meet them. If your spec is for building junk and you do it (and do it well) is that quality? Perhaps we should separate the ‘quality’ of the process from the quality of the end product. While you can produce junk (by this I mean stuff that breaks the third or fourth time you use it, and never really works that well before it breaks) by means of a high quality process, I think it is difficult to produce really fine stuff if your process is mucked up.

  12. Laura says:

    Well, I did very poorly on THAT pop-quiz! I really hated the wedding dress, but I chose the wedding dress anyway. I discarded the answer of “insufficient data” too quickly because I felt the paper gown was a one-time use, disposable garment and the wedding gown could be fixed and/or reused and, being made of silk, was more valuable. But, of course, paying to have it fixed would cost more, too. I felt that the wedding dress was the lesser of three evils and I was wrong.

  13. Myrrhia says:

    I was defining “quality” as performance in the market place. That is, what will garner greater return on investment. Insufficient data, sure, but I presumed that the paper gown would sell more regularly and readily with less advertising and overhead.

  14. Anna says:

    I’m thrilled with this discussion, as it segways to sustainability also. Please add the adjective “measurable” to your discussion of quality. The term can also refer to other characteristics that are more difficult to quantify, such as design quality. Measurable quality, such as stitch length and durability, are certainly different than value. We can also assign levels of quality to (apparel) design, such as innovation, effective interpretation, reference to historical predecessors, etc. But these are evaluated differently.

  15. Kathleen says:

    Perhaps this is a matter of semantics. I would consider “measurable” to be “adherence to specification”. Specification of course, details the facets of product attributes you describe.

    I’m not quibbling with including measurable except as it relates to difficulty to quantify. In that it defies being measured. Or if it can be, it remains subjective as to who is doing the judging and according to which (ambiguous) standards? My redundant example is someone who claims to have a sustainable clothing line because they’ve used organic cotton. I say that claim is open to debate depending on the production method -push vs pull- being the key attribute and as yet, no sustainability standards out there address this. Much to my continuing dismay.

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