Impactiva process optimization footwear

Retail Survival Depends on More than Just Speed to Market

by Jose R. Suarez

Speed to market has been among the most talked about topics in retail in recent years, but while brands and retailers focus on simply cutting days out of production processes, many don’t realize the critical role consumer experience plays in introducing greater speed into the supply chain.

With growing competition, consumer demands and pressure for faster deliveries, speed to market is more essential than ever in the apparel and footwear industries. But speed to market requires more than just cutting down on production processes—it requires delivering consistently high-quality products through a season-less development process that allows for continuously available fresh product.

 

The importance of consumer experience

Today’s consumer wants a shopping experience with seamless, end-to-end gratification, including stores designed for fun and inspiration, input on product designs and new technologies to explore, like in-store virtual product try-on. But above all they want freshness—new product in the omnichannel all the time.

Unfortunately, factory bottlenecks have made it difficult for many companies to deliver this customer experience. Specifically, while brands and retailers are striving to create optimized demand chains with a pull-versus-push product strategy, their factories haven’t been able to accommodate this change in paradigm.

Among retail’s problems in delivering on those consumer demands, have been challenges at the factory level. Brands and retailers are looking to create optimized demand chains, a pull versus push strategy for product, and many factories aren’t yet aligned to accommodate. Add to that, labor costs are continuously rising, the pool of skilled labor is continuously shrinking and constantly country-hopping to chase the lowest cost simply doesn’t work anymore.

To overcome these challenges and achieve the real speed to market needed for growth and survival, forward-thinking leaders should concentrate on three key areas: thinking in days, not months to sure product freshness; producing right from the start to deliver faster; and cutting manufacturing lead time by embracing lean processes.

 

Thinking in days, not months

 The retail environment is quickly evolving, and in five years, today’s newest strategies to speed supply chains will be the new normal.

To begin, companies must rethink product design. They should standardize a high percentage of materials and components, design with manufacturing in mind, and increase the frequency of collections. Season-less product launching will soon be commonplace, with brands and retailers moving from 2 seasons per year to 6, 12, 24 or more. Manufacturing lead times will shrink to as little as 30 days, and tier-2 material vendors may start supplying with a mindset of days rather than weeks.

Brands and retailers should immediately shift their thinking, as the benefits of product freshness can already be seen at retailers that have remained successful despite the industry’s general malaise.

For instance, at T.J. Maxx, where comparable store sales continue to outperform analyst expectations, a continuous product roll-out has fueled the “treasure hunt” sensation for consumers and resulted in increased foot traffic. At Zara, the release of new collections every two weeks has given rise to the “scarcity sensation,” encouraging shoppers to buy on the spot. This strategy has also allowed Zara to avoid the vicious promotional cycle.

Conversely, Macy’s has largely stayed wed to its summer and winter collections, plus capsules, and its stable supply of brands and big discounts. Not surprisingly, the retailer has been struggling to get out of a longstanding sales rut.

 

Producing right from the start

 Once brands and retailers begin thinking in days, not months, getting factories to work in this same manner entails transforming their facilities.

Accomplishing these goals requires creating a factory culture of managing with data, numbers and metrics. In addition, it requires optimizing Tier-1 and Tier-2 relationships to allow for close partnerships that find ways to reduce material lead-times by 30 percent to 50 percent. Materials must arrive with extremely high levels of quality so that they can go directly-to-cutting without the need for time delaying 100 percent factory re-inspections.

 

Cutting manufacturing lead-time by embracing lean processes

Transforming factories also requires standardizing processes and enabling quick changeovers. To do so, companies should embrace lean strategies to maximize production flow and dramatically reduce manufacturing lead-times to hours and not weeks.

A key focus of this effort should be on creating a culture of continuous improvement. 70 percent of the efforts should be on change management and only 30 percent on implementing the necessary tools, like line balancing, standardized work, Kanban.

Companies should take steps to ensure that new behaviors and habits become a day to day standard for leaders, instilling values like discipline, accountability, transparency, positive energy, experiment-to-learn, and safety. In turn, those values will result in a culture of high worker engagement and a mentality of continuous improvement.

 

Case studies for achieving true speed to market

 Brands and retailers that are already focusing on these areas—through the implementation of a comprehensive quality assurance and continuous improvement programs—are yielding substantial results, as demonstrated by the following examples:

 

Women’s fashion footwear retailer. The brand, which produces more than 50 million pairs of shoes each year, faced delays among its Tier-2 leather supply chain. By implementing a Leather Quality Assurance Program with direct-to-cutting upon arrival from the tannery, it slashed 12 days from its supply chain. The company also improved its on-time delivery of its tanneries from 40 percent to 78 percent within the first 12 months. 99.5% of leather shipped without factory claims and nearly 98 percent went direct-to-cutting without factory re-inspection.

Casual women’s footwear brand. The brand, which produces more than 25 million pairs of shoes each year, was challenged to move production out of China due to cost reasons. In the new manufacturing country, they were getting a first-pass-rate of only 23 percent resulting in massive shipment delays. The company implemented a Footwear Quality Assurance Program, allowing it to reduce its rejection rate to less than 4 percent in only one season, thereby allowing it to meet their promised ship dates. Program teaching and coaching instilled a strong focus on quality among the factory’s artisans and supervisors, fundamental for the long-term sustainability of the transformation.

 

Ultimately, despite the many competitive and financial challenges facing the footwear and apparel industry, producing fresh, high-quality, efficiently made products remains the key to your future success. Your Survival = Consumer Experience * Speed2—the only way to ensure the sustainable satisfaction of all of your customers is to transform your demand chain now.

Leather defect - Not through dyed 2

The advantages of having leather inspected at the tanneries

The leather inspection service was born with Impactiva, so we have endless success stories to tell. We want to bring attention back to it now because we believe it is extremely useful in today’s landscape of consumers’ urge to see-now/get-now combined with e-commerce speed and low-price expectation.

Leather is a beautiful, noble, but not economical material. Our statistics show that we reject at the tanneries an average of 5% of the quantities presented to us for inspection. You can do your own calculations according to the prices you are paying for your leather. Shipping that 5% of out-of-spec leather would entail more shipping costs, re-inspections at the shoe factory, the possibility of a claim with the consequent wasted time in settling it and, what is worse, the risk of the shoe factory actually using that defective leather!

Contrary to what might be thought, the tanneries appreciate our work, they can better understand their client’s expectations, we help set up fair product specifications, and they appreciate not receiving so many claims.

We can also coordinate tanneries with shoe factories so that the incoming leather can go directly to be cut without re-inspections, saving substantial time and labour. Using Impactiva’s Leather QA service with this “Direct-to-cutting” component, our clients achieve a reduction in their footwear manufacturing lead-time of as much as 15 days!

Now, going back to leather defects, we would like to show some pictures of the kind of defect we prevent from reaching your shoes:

 

Badly trimmed leather (all that is unusable square footage you pay for)

Impactiva Leather Quality Control Leather defect - bad trimming 2 DCIM100MEDIA

 

Massive scratches, there is no way to fit a pattern:

DCIM100MEDIA Impactiva Leather Quality Control

Scratches and ticks, what an ugly combination!:

Leather defect - scratches and ticks

 

Deep veins: grain can burst when lasting, apart from impairing the aesthetics of the shoe:

Impactiva Quality Control Leather defect - deep veins 2

 

Color variation within the same lot (if the client approves different shades, we have them measured and packed separately):

Impactiva quality control

 

Ticks, when they are clustered they cause a big waste of leather since they can’t be cut into any visible part of the shoe:

Impactiva Leather Quality Control Leather defect - ticks 2

 

Pin holes, can’t go in any visible part of the shoe:

Impactiva Leather Quality Control Leather defect - pin holes 2

 

Growth marks: passing the finger over them you can feel the ups and downs when they are really deep:

DCIM100MEDIA Leather defect - deep growth marks 2

 

Grain off, just can’t be used:

Impactiva Leather Quality Control

 

Looseness, should definitely be avoided:

Impactiva Leather Quality Control Leather defect - loose grain 2

 

Hair not completely removed: usually if you touch it you can even feel the hair!

Impactiva Leather Quality Control

 

Machine fold marks, more sq.ft. that can’t be used:

Impactiva Leather Quality Control Leather defect - machinery fold mark 2

 

Rib marks, if they are too contrasting the shoe finish won’t dissimulate them:

Impactiva Leather Quality Control DCIM100MEDIA DCIM100MEDIA Leather defect - rib marks 4

 

Not through dyed, if the final product style has raw edges the factory will need to ink all edges, adding labour and materials cost:

Impactiva Leather Quality Control Leather defect - Not through dyed 2 Leather defect - Not through dyed 3

 

 

Impactiva Apparel Quality Control

Fast fashion calls for increasingly short lead-times

From what we read lately in fashion specialized media we get the impression that “fast” is never fast enough! All studies show that consumers want to instantly wear what they see and like. Brands and retailers work to shorten their conception-to-consumer lead-times in every possible way.

Today we want to address one of those possible ways: optimizing the link of the manufacturing supply chain that connects your Tier-2 with your Tier-1 suppliers, specifically the mills that supply fabric to your apparel factories.

A substantial part of the apparel found defective at final QC inspection is attributable to out-of-spec fabrics. Garments that get rejected at some point in production or when they are ready to be shipped, due to fabric stains, holes, knots, etc. If the mills fail to mark defects properly, the apparel factory can inadvertently cut the fabric into apparel. We know the consequences: reworks, rejections, replacements… in a word: delays… And of course: waste.

Inspecting fabric at the mill to ensure correct color, hand-feel and marking of defects can save the brand and its factories up to 20% of the fabric cost. And a lot of time.

Processes and procedures in place to prevent defects as early as possible.

These are some pictures of unmarked defects found in different clients and fabrics inspections, that can help illustrate this blog. Some are extremely noticeable and one can expect they won’t be cut into apparel, but it is best to mark all defects.

 

Stains

Fabric defect - stain 6Fabric defect - stain 1Fabric defect - stain 2  Fabric defect - stain 4  Fabric defect - stain 3Fabric defect - stain 7

 

Holes

Fabric defect - hole 1 Fabric defect - hole 2 Fabric defect - hole 3

 

Broken yarns

Fabric defect - broken yarn 1 Fabric defect - broken yarn 2

 

Foreign yarns

Impactiva Apparel Quality Control  Fabric defect - foreign yarn 3Fabric defect - foreign yarn 2

 

Pulled yarns

Impactiva Apparel Quality Control

 

Knots

Impactiva Apparel Quality Control Fabric defect - knot 2 Fabric defect - knot 3

 

Fabric joints

Impactiva Apparel Quality Control

Front

Impactiva Apparel Quality Control

Back

Untrimmed thread apparel quality control

Defect Calibration: A Key Tool for Reducing Errors and Chargebacks

By Jose Suarez

In the fast-paced, competitive apparel and footwear industries, quality has always been important. However, with rising material and labor costs, combined with the growing pressure for faster deliveries and the proliferation of styles, minimizing defects is no longer just important; it’s essential.

Therefore, as part of their efforts to ensure short- and long-term growth, forward-thinking brands are investing in defect calibration, the practice of minimizing quality discrepancies that exist when a product is manufactured.

Untrimmed thread apparel quality control

The Importance of Outlining Quality Standards and Expectations

To achieve effective defect calibration, brands must methodically outline quality standards and expectations regarding defect classification with their factories.

While this action may seem obvious, consider the state of communication and understanding at your factories. If you were to ask the key 15-20 people at each factory (those who have an important impact on the quality of your product) to clearly state what you as the buyer define as a critical, major, and minor defect, would their answers be consistent? Probably not.

From the merchandiser to quality control managers and operators, few are likely to have a firm understanding of your expectations regarding defects.

It gets worse. Now consider the state of communication between you and your retailers. Like your factories, the likelihood is that you do not fully understand each of your retailer’s standards for critical, major, and minor defects.

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

 

The Loose Thread Example: Major or Minor Defect?

A clear example of the confusion and costs created by poor defect calibration can be seen in the inconsistent ways a loose thread is classified.

Traditionally, a loose garment thread is classified as a minor defect, However, if the thread is overly long, some parties may classify it as a major defect. But how long? The problem is that most companies do not specify the exact length at which a thread should become a major defect.

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

 

Employing a Retailer-Specific Approach to Defect Calibration

It is important to note that 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.

If consumers of a particular retailer tend not to care about a small, loose thread and pay for the product without requesting a discount, the defect should likely be classified as a minor defect. However, if the defect is significant enough that consumers of another retailer tend to purchase the product only at a 30-50 percent discount, it should likely be classified as a major defect.

Thus, since retailers have different expectations of product quality, based on their consumer base, brands should define and adjust their defect classifications accordingly. Then, they should educate their factories on the specific quality standards applicable to each product.

 

Adopting Factory Defect Books

Communicating quality specifications can 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 clearly 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. Further, if the brand or retailer has multiple sets of quality specifications (e.g., one for a mass-market line and one for a top-tier line), books should be created for each.

As issues arise and new determinations are made regarding a defect classification, defect books should be revised with new, descriptive pictures. In addition, books should be reexamined, updated, and reissued to factory personnel after each update.

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

case 538 pic 2 impactiva material fabric qc

Defects in fabric production – Case #538

“A picture is worth a thousand words”. Practical solutions to problems encountered in the manufacturing process that demonstrate how we assist our customers’ factories to produce Right from the Start TM.

A fabric QC assignment.

We deployed our textile Technicians to do a fabric QC inspection before it shipped to their garments factories. This is an exclusive design from Sandro Paris. Here are some of the defects found:

 

Foreign yarn: a different color thread that was not supposed to be there!

case 538 pic 1 impactiva material fabric qc

Holes

case 538 pic 2 impactiva material fabric qc case 538 pic 3 impactiva material fabric qc

Various mesh defects: at the selvedge, an incomplete flower…

case 538 pic 4 impactiva material fabric qc case 538 pic 5 impactiva material fabric qc case 538 pic 7 impactiva material fabric qc

Broken or missing yarn:

case 538 pic 6 impactiva material fabric qc case 538 pic 8 impactiva material fabric qc

Not-centered flowers:

case 538 pic 10 impactiva material fabric qc

A vertical link defect that covered 50 cm.

case 538 pic 11 impactiva material fabric qc

Our Technicians marked all the defects with red tags so that the garment factory can cut around them.

Businessman taking oath.

Here’s How to Curb Bribery in Quality Control

by Jose R. Suarez, founder & CEO, Impactiva

 

For a brand to invest all the money it does in quality control and compliance, corruption in the supply chain shouldn’t render it all for naught.

Unfortunately, in the QC business, corruption is endemic and bribery is common. But with the right procedures in place, curbing both is possible.

Businessman taking oath.

For one, brands, just like quality assurance companies, should have anti-corruption policies in place that do things like forbid quality control technicians from accepting gifts from vendors or invitations to lunch or even free transportation from the airport to the hotel—there should be nothing that functions as a favor to a quality control technician.

Sometimes factories are far out from where a technician lives, and the only possibilities for eating or getting transportation is with the help of a factory. In cases like this, quality control companies should pay the factories market price for the meal and the transport they help provide to the technicians.

The lack of reasonable pay for quality control techs is a major part of what poses the above problem, but bribery can be so rampant that major testing companies have admitted to not raising their inspectors’ salaries because they know the benefits from the factory’s kickbacks can be substantial.

In one case the GM of a major Chinese factory had an agreement with a brand’s QC to give the inspector 2 percent of the shoes produced to sell online, and they would divvy up the profit. Another retailer got fed up and rid itself of all of its quality control inspectors because some were taking 2,000 to 3,000 yuan ($300 to $450) per container from the factories to perform the inspection and create a favorable “pass” report. Instead of maintaining their in-house inspection team, the retailer shifted the ethics controversy upstream to their QC inspection company to be rid of the problem.

In managing the improvement of their factories, it’s easier, some brands have said—however unfortunately—for factories to pay off a brand representative to approve the “right” metrics, because then the factory won’t have to invest in transforming themselves. They’ll just benefit from false metrics.

That’s a testament to how messed up our society is.

Cutting down on ethical issues in quality control begins with the inspector hiring process. Quality control companies need to be firmer on issues of ethical compliance, as should brands. Building a culture in your company that strengthens the sanctity of the quality control process begins with the interview process, with as many questions as possible to suss out who seems honest and who may not be. Once you get dishonest people in the company, the cancer is inside and it spreads from there. Even then, when QC inspectors go out into the world, there is no guarantee that they will be honest and ethical.

That’s where penalties come in. And they have to be harsh to have meaning.

When a factory tries to bribe an inspector from a third-party QC provider, photographic evidence should be taken of the actual bribe, whether a red envelope with cash in it or gifts in other forms. Then the QC can confront the factory with the evidence, have them admit to attempting the bribe, and brands can be notified about their suppliers’ unethical activities.

That sort of public punishment and the risk of potentially losing business after multiple dishonest activities can help keep factory owners in line and rampant corruption out of the supply chain.

The nonsense has to be stopped, especially because bribery and corruption, in general, affects the disadvantaged classes the most as money is siphoned off at higher levels without making it down to those who most need it. In the case of unethical quality control, bribery increases the price consumers pay, and even worse, dramatically diminishes the quality of the products they buy.

Now the question is: are apparel companies willing to support an ethical quality control process and implement a zero tolerance policy, penalizing those factories and QC inspectors who are unethical?

It should be feasible for apparel companies to scale back on factories who repeatedly bribe QC inspectors because of the many alternative sourcing options that exist. A typical brand or retailer may have hundreds of factories, thousands even, so it shouldn’t have a major impact on them to stop using two, three or four of them over compliance concerns.

Rarely do we see companies implement a zero tolerance policy. If we look at society in general, corruption happens everywhere, like in politics. The problem is, people believe they have a right to a company’s or supplier’s money above and beyond what they’re already earning. And in some societies, bribery and corruption is more widely accepted than in others, making it even more difficult to root out this cancer that plagues our society.

 

case 190 pic 3 impactiva leather qa

Low grading leather – Case #190

“A picture is worth a thousand words”. Practical solutions to problems encountered in the manufacturing process that demonstrate how we assist our customers’ factories to produce Right from the Start TM.

Problem: 43.9% of a lot of cowhide leather rejected due to poor selection (pinholes, growth marks, veins and looseness).

case 190 pic 1 impactiva leather qa case 190 pic 2 impactiva leather qa case 190 pic 3 impactiva leather qa case 190 pic 4 impactiva leather qa

Impactiva solution: the tannery agreed with our criteria and will produce a replacement lot.

Stay tuned for more Impactiva technical solutions to every day production problems.

Case 186 pic 2 impactiva leather qa

Low grade leather – Case #186

“A picture is worth a thousand words”. Practical solutions to problems encountered in the manufacturing process that demonstrate how we assist our customers’ factories to produce Right from the Start TM.

 

Problem: 68% of a lot of cowhide crust presented very low selection (tick marks, deep veins, white spots, scratches, growth marks, grain damage)

Case 186 pic 1 impactiva leather qa Case 186 pic 2 impactiva leather qa Case 186 pic 3 impactiva leather qa Case 186 pic 4 impactiva leather qa Case 186 pic 5 impactiva leather qa

 

Impactiva solution: we rejected the lot an discussed with the tannery. They agreed with our criteria and will produce a replacement lot.

Stay tuned for more Impactiva technical solutions to every day production problems.