Quality Control and SOW pt.1

When Mr.Fashion-Incubator read the first entry on this topic, he said it read like a “rent” post or minimally, a “homework” post. Rent -usually in the context of a film- is the word I use to describe a lousy film with a big name star in it, something they probably only did ’cause they had to make rent or pay bills. In other words, he was implying I wrote it to fill space. A homework post is one I don’t particularly enjoy writing but I do it because you really need to read it. Homework posts aren’t hard to pick out because I’m kind of grumpy, churlish, or immature at the outset until I inject a little humor to make it fun for me. In my defense, I’m usually honest about it. For example, in this intro to a homework post I said:

As a production pattern maker, the thing I liked least was making buttonhole guides. There was no way to get out of it. It’s boring. It’s not creative. It’s not fun. Just drone work, I hated it. CAD is great for this sort of thing. Little did I realize I’d have to write about it. That’s insult to injury.

But last week’s entry was neither and I pouted about it until he said “look..ponies!” and mollified me with a cookie. What is certain is that I was trying to restrain myself because although it may be hard for you to believe, I can go off on things. Like SOW -otherwise spelled d-e-e-l-i-t-e-f-u-l with endless layers of complexity and nuance to explore! But I can’t go there all the time. Miracle says those give her headaches. I don’t care if she doesn’t read some entries like technical sewing or pattern stuff because she doesn’t do sewing or patterns but I’m doing a lousy job if someone is searching futilely for the definition of “marker”. So perhaps, in attempting to avoid inflicting massive migraines on the fashion industry, I pull back too far. Overly belabored introduction dispensed with, today is part two of controlling sewing contracting costs with a statement of work (SOW) in the context of quality control. I’ll bet you shivered all over with excitement to read that.

Specifically -what I was probably avoiding the discussion of was- how do you determine the quality of the result? What are the criteria? That’s not so simple. And assuming you can define those, how do you go about inspecting? These are not simple questions but let’s try starting with:

  1. How do you determine the criteria?
  2. What percentage equals pass or failure?
  3. How many samples do you inspect in a lot?
  4. How do you decide between repair or replacement?

How do you determine the criteria?
The easiest way for me to answer this is to tell you to buy a book so I’m off the hook. It is very subjective; everyone says they want high quality but no one agrees what that means. I’ve seen photos of products from distraught DEs with nothing wrong with them, nothing at all (seriously) and I’ve seen products DEs are deliriously happy with that I think are only fit for thrift shops, provided you’ve cut your labels out of them first. I think the governing criteria should be the prototype you’ve given to the contractor or that they’ve produced and you’ve agreed that’s the standard.

I think it’s more important to quantify the importance of the failure. Does the failure impact the value of the product? If so, by how much? Let’s use the example of buttons to make it simple and to show how even buttons can be complex.

Let’s assume your product is 100% top notch except for the buttons because the contractor lost your buttons and made a substitution. Let’s presume you’re a bit peeved but can go with the substitution -have you considered the costs involved? If the replacement button is a substantively different design, you may have to go back to buyers and note product change. At this stage you must offer the opportunity for the buyer to change, cancel or discount the order. How do you calculate loss? Who pays for it? These are the sorts of things to be considered in the SOW. Above all, there should be no unauthorized substitution under pain of penalty.

Let’s say you lose 100 orders that you had pending. Because you produced items that you no longer have orders for, do you charge the contractor for the cost of goods or for the value of the sales? At this stage you might ask yourself if you intend to maintain this relationship. If yes, and they want to work with you too, I wouldn’t be heavy handed. Ask them for what they think is an equitable solution. If no, charge back on the invoice of what you are losing plus a minimal transaction fee to cover the overhead of what it cost you to deal with the problem (10-15%). You may have to file in small claims court to collect and even that may be dicey if they’re decision proof -meaning they don’t have the money. In the end, you write off the loss and move on if you can’t collect. Frankly, I’ve been surprised at how many DEs have been able to collect even from tiny operations (one person).

What percentage equals pass or failure?
This is very difficult to answer. Some things are absolute (below). If it’s a poorly sewn thing here or there, how do you weight each item? How do you figure the percentage of failure? Is it by operations or value? Value can be weighted two ways, loss of sales, or cost of repair assuming it is repairable. Will the cost of repair exceed the value of the sewing contract? If so, will the contractor opt to make you whole (cost of buyer invoices) rather than repairing? Assuming it is one little thing here or there that can be repaired, I still think you should attempt to weight the failure. If the rate of defect exceeds 70% (whatever that means), the item should probably fail. If there are too many little things wrong with it, you have little assurance the repairs themselves will be done properly and in time for shipments -assuming you’re not late as it is.

With respect to the matter of substitutions and the value of the button mistake, consider legal requirements such as those under CPSIA. Your SOW must be very specific. If your contractor substitutes a lead laden button and you don’t know it, you could be in trouble (this could also impact your relationship with buyers). The problem here is two fold. First is that they lost your buttons and didn’t tell you. The second failure is the unauthorized substitution. Your SOW must clearly list who provides what and the criteria for failed product. In this manner, the SOW is tied to the tech pack.

How do you decide between repair or replacement?
Returning to the example of a bad substitution and you decide to reorder buttons the contractor lost and have the items repaired, you must first know if they can be repaired. Button holes can’t be fixed so if the button size doesn’t match…well, then you really start to hate your job. The entire lot could be a loss unless you decide to go with it as is, perhaps at a discount and charge the loss of revenue back to the contractor. Note: you could not also charge for the loss of button inventory unless there was an excess over and above what was needed to complete the lot.

Next time, unless I’ve bored you senselessly, I’ll write about how to inspect a lot (#3 in the bulleted list I opened with) and anything else I forgot to include in this one.

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7 comments

  1. Leslie says:

    This is a timely topic for me, because I was awake most of the night and had time to think about this very subject before I finally got out of bed and booted up the computer. Such is the life (or lack thereof) of an entrepreneur. I manufacture a line of custom covers for Curves fitness franchises (just one of many unusual lines) I don’t subcontract, my own employees do the cut and sew. I’ve really let quality control get away from me, and I’ve noticed some increased complaints or returns. To quantify the cost of one return is easy. I send another, so it may cost me $20. But I may never get another order from that club if they simply don’t complain, but don’t reorder. The cost could be extremely high. If they tell others (which they do) it could be worse. I have to compensate by ridiculously high customer service levels, even replacing things that are often not my fault at all. But, back to the problem. I need to make my employees more accountable at every level, for their own work, and for noticing any issues with the work of anyone else that has contributed to the problem.
    Thanks for doing another boring, useful article.

  2. Barb Taylorr says:

    Great post, thanks for the extra (& painful) effort! I understand your point much better now. I’m sure the extra detail is appreciated by many. I might add one tip that some newer DE’s may not be aware of. Many large US cities have bussiness that specialize in fixing mistakes made on bulk lots of apparel before it ships to the retailer (replacing labels, buttons, pressing and repackaging..etc). This can be a life-saver when the problem is fixible but there is no time to return the goods to the factory, especially if your contracter is overseas. I have also found local tailors to make repairs on pieces that fail inspection. It is very expensive, but if it keeps a valuable customer from canceling an order because the quantity or delivery date was not as promised, or if it keeps you in compliance with a big box customer’s requirements, it can be a viable option.

  3. Lesley says:

    Thanks Kathleen,
    Just finished writing up 14 pages of spec sheets – just for ONE contractor (trims). I have gotten to the point of spoon-feeding every detail since I cannot underestimate the amount of sloppiness and short-cuts every person in the process will take. Now I have every ridiculous imaginable detail in writing: seam allowances, hem allowances, seam types, thread colors for every seam, which way to roll the trim on the roll, …I could go on and on. I just don’t know how anyone can let go enough to trust their contractors, let alone overseas! Geez, I just had a fabric company send me the wrong fabric for the same order twice in a row. This happens to me all the time and a contractor would probably not even notice that the color was off or know why the order was wrong (right bolt, wrong fabric followed by wrong fabric on wrong bolt – this would be solved if the idiots used numbers instead of color names assigned by colorblind people.) Everybody makes at least one mistake along the way, myself included, and what you finish with is a heap of dung. aargh! Oh yes, and what to do when the production sample looks great but the actual production looks terrible! I am considering Zanax.

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