Q: My supplier is providing me with quite a lot of defective garments, even though they claim that the errors found are ‘under the AQL limits’ and ‘only about 3% of the total’. That’s equivalent to around 60 pieces out of every 2,000 I order. This seems a lot and hurts my brand. Is this normal?
In the apparel trade, yes, a 3% AQL is to be expected (not ‘normal’, but expected if you work with a relatively average or unsophisticated supplier). So, the factory salesperson is actually being honest about the 3%. In garments, I don’t think any buyer is happy about that proportion of defectives, but you will need to look for a better factory if you want a lower percentage.
Q: I paid for a final inspection which was not cheap, it failed due to puckering on 100% of the garments, but my factory doesn’t seem willing to take action to fix the issues and I’m struggling to negotiate with them from overseas. How do other companies handle this?
So, this factory sees a failed report with a very serious issue (very visible puckering along some seams) and they won’t do anything? That’s the sign of a bad factory. That’s quite unreasonable on their side, but not atypical, unfortunately. That’s why we usually suggest doing an earlier inspection, such as a pre-production meeting and/or inspection during production, to catch such issues before all is made and packed (at least the factory usually tries to minimize the damage on what they still have to sew).
Q: Are these errors and this behavior typical from a garment factory?
I think their errors are typical, yes. But their behavior is poor. One might say their behavior is typical, too, if they see you as a small customer and they believe you are not going to leave them over this type of issue. If they cannot or will not change their ways, it may be time to consider switching to a new supplier altogether or work on improving your supplier’s quality processes.
Q: How do large apparel companies like Nike manage to prevent any defective garments from reaching consumers?
Huge companies like Nike work with large (often > 5,000 people), very organized factories. They hold a lot of sway over their suppliers as they buy massive quantities. They have pushed those factories to work a LOT on process improvement, even introducing a lean manufacturing approach. That’s another world that is atypical in the garment trade…
If like Nike, you can work with a factory over which you have a lot of purchasing power (ideally, some of their lines work for your company continuously), certain things become possible:
- Forcing them to do small pilot runs before launching mass production.
- Not cutting all the fabric & accessories in advance (so cutting or fabric issues don’t impact large batches in their entirety).
- Paying a lot of attention to the first bundles sewn, with a special process.
But, I am afraid this is not realistic for buyers who are purchasing smaller volumes, unfortunately.
Q: Would a 100% inspection be a possible solution for me to stop these quality problems and what would it cost?
Very few garment buyers arrange for a 100% inspection (apart from some Japanese companies). It adds quite a bit of cost.
However, we are able to perform a Full Production Check (FPC) on batches from your supplier keeping in mind specific problems that have been repeatedly occurring to give you peace of mind that defective garments won’t be shipped.
In terms of cost, the FPC is US$299 per man-day and it could be several man days to check, say, a couple of thousand garments. However, this type of quotation has to be done on a case-by-case basis, based on the ease of checking the garment and the types of defects that we have to catch.
What is the minimum we suggest ‘small buyers’ do to assure good quality products?
- Be very clear about the types of defects can and cannot tolerate, and in what maximum proportion
- Make sure any potential supplier is made aware of this
- Document your inspection checklist and the lists of issues you will count as defects
- Have the supplier sign a manufacturing agreement that stipulates what happens if too many defects are found
- Send an inspector at different times during the production of the first batch with a new supplier. And keep doing at least a final random inspection after that.
How about you?
Are you also having difficulties with a Chinese apparel supplier? Let us know what’s happening and we will try to offer some advice.
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