How Garment Importers Maintain Quality Standards with QC Checklists

Ever wondered how to consolidate all of the requirements for your garment and apparel products into a single clear and concise document? How do garment importers set clear product expectations for their supplier and QC staff to follow?

Garments can be some of the most complex consumer products to manufacture. There are often quality considerations related to fabric and other materials, accessories, component functionality, proper fitting and dimensional tolerances and many others. And setting clear expectations for your apparel products before beginning mass production is vital to receiving finished goods that meet your standards (related: 5 Essentials of a QC Checklist [eBook]).

One of the best ways to clarify your expectations before, during and after production is to outline them in what’s called a quality control (QC) checklist. Experienced professionals throughout the garment manufacturing industry rely on QC checklists to convey and enforce their quality standards.

Let’s delve into what QC checklists are, what they typically include and how you can create one for your own products.

What are QC checklists and how do they help garment manufacturers?
A QC checklist, sometimes called an inspection criteria sheet (ICS), contains most of the requirements for manufacturing a product. Whether that product is an item of clothing, furniture or an electronic home appliance, there’s value in creating a QC checklist for it.

An effective QC checklist should be detailed and comprehensive, yet concise and easy to follow. An inspector or production manager should be able to scan your product’s checklist to quickly find the information they need. Graphs, tables and other visual elements often improve readability of checklists, making them more efficient for professionals to use.

Garments quality checking
Fig: Garments quality checking
QC checklists typically need to be current to be of any practical value. A lot can change in a garment from its initial concept and design to the finished product. And deviations from specification can occur if factory or QC staff use an outdated checklist to verify product requirements. The purchaser, manufacturer and anyone inspecting the product all need to follow the same, up-to-date version of the checklist.

Who benefits from an effective QC checklist?
There are a few main players in the supply chain that will benefit from access to a current and complete QC checklist:

  • Garment importers or purchasers – the customer that will ultimately receive the finished goods typically dictates the requirements they expect their suppliers to meet. Customers are among the primary contributors of the QC checklist.
  • Suppliers and manufacturers – factory and other supplier staff concerned with fulfilling the garment order should have access to a QC checklist to serve as a guide for production. Supplier input is also very important in developing the checklist, especially in cases where the customer’s expectations may not be reasonably achievable.
  • Quality control staff – whether a factory’s own personnel, the garment purchaser’s internal staff or a professional third-party’s inspectors, QC staff will likely look to the checklist for product requirements and inspection criteria to guide them in checking the product.
Sales and marketing staff at the purchasing company may also find the QC checklist helpful. The detailed product specifications and requirements included can help them more effectively market the product to consumers.

What should you include in a QC checklist for garments?
Most QC checklists for consumer products include four main sections: product requirements, packaging requirements, on-site testing procedures and known defect classification. Each section of the checklist guides the manufacturer during production and quality control staff during inspection. How detailed you are in developing your QC checklist will largely determine how closely the finished product meets your standards.

Product requirements for garments
Probably the most obvious information to include in your QC checklist will be requirements for your product. Clarifying these as early as possible, such as in the design process and when talking to potential suppliers, will help you avoid nonconformances later. Product requirements for garments and apparel typically include:

  • Dimensions & tolerances – a garment that doesn’t pass a fit check can be unsalable. That’s why it’s crucial to include dimensions and accepted tolerances for each measurement. For example, you might specify the back length from shoulder in a shirt should measure 46 cm with a tolerance of ± 1 cm. It’s often helpful to include product sketches or illustrations showing the desired measuring method for garments. Otherwise, factory or inspection staff may measure components and report on dimensions incorrectly.
  • Product weight – specifying the weight of the finished garment can help you detect issues related to material dampness and fabric density.
  • Material & construction – this should include specifications related to the fabric and stitching used in the product. This also includes any requirements related to the color of a garment item and any accessories.
  • Product markings & labeling – a particularly important point for garments, labeling an item incorrectly can result in the product being held up or refused at customs. Many brands and retailers also have their own requirements, which they force their suppliers to meet. Failure to comply could result in lost distribution channels.
Dimensions and accepted tolerances of garments
Fig: Dimensions and accepted tolerances of garments
Once you’re sure that you, your supplier and QC staff have a mutual understanding of requirements for your product, you’re ready to consider product packaging.

Packaging requirements for garments
It may not be your first consideration when it comes to clarifying specifications for your garment and apparel products. But product packaging can literally “make or break” a shipment. Your product will need reliable packaging to arrive at its destination safely and undamaged. Here are some considerations most QC checklists should address:

  • Shipper cartons – you likely have specific requirements for the outermost carton, or shipper carton, containing your goods. These requirements could include markings or labeling, weight & dimensions, sealing method, packing assortment method and others.
  • Inner cartons & retail packaging – as with shipper cartons, you may have specific requirements for inner and retail packaging. For example, you may have a custom design in mind for the retail package containing your product. Government regulations, such as those related to poly bags in the United States, often set requirements for product packaging in their market of sale. And major retailers often impose their own packaging standards on suppliers.
Any supplier staff handling the product packaging and QC staff checking the packaged goods before shipping will appreciate a checklist that includes clear packaging standards.

On-site testing procedures for garments
Multiple on-site tests usually accompany quality control inspection for most products. On-site testing typically differs from testing conducted in an accredited laboratory. More technical testing is left to lab technicians. But QC inspectors can perform other simpler, yet valuable, tests for garment products directly at the manufacturer’s facility, including:

  • Stitches per inch (SPI)check – stitch density is an important factor for determining the strength and durability of a garment.
  • Fit check – most garments are subject to a fit check during the inspection process to ensure they meet sizing requirements.
  • Wet & dry crocking test – by rubbing the garment with a wet or dry cloth to test color fastness, you can identify any bleeding in the dye used in the fabric.
  • Fabric GSM check – checking grams per square meter of fabric (fabric density) is a standard check included in most garment inspections.
  • Metal detector check – an essential safety test for garments and footwear, you can find any needles or other potentially sharp, metal objects left in your product by running it through a metal detector.
These are just a few examples of common tests QC professionals use to check garment quality during inspection. There are many others that you may wish to include in your own quality control checklist, depending on your product and requirements.
common tests QC professionals
Table: Common tests QC professionals
Specifying equipment for on-site garment testing
Importers often overlook the need to specify any equipment needed for on-site testing. The result is often that QC staff inspecting the goods and factory staff don’t have the tools or equipment available. For example, a special tool is needed to cut the right size and shape of fabric from a garment to accurately measure its fabric density. Without clarifying this equipment is needed for the GSM check, QC staff may be unable to perform this test.

Just as important as clarifying what equipment is needed for on-site testing is stating who will be responsible for providing it. Some equipment, such as measuring tape or a set of Pantone color swatches, is relatively inexpensive and easy to transport. You can generally expect any outside inspection staff to bring these tools with them.

But other equipment, such as a metal detector, can be very expensive or cumbersome to bring to a factory. In these cases, importers requiring this equipment for testing usually must rely on the factory to provide it. Regardless of who will provide testing equipment, you can avoid confusion by confirming well before inspection and specifying equipment in your QC checklist.

How can garment importers work with their suppliers and QC staff to develop checklists?
An effective QC checklist helps clarify your requirements for your garment products. And collecting input from your suppliers and QC staff when developing your checklist will help ensure your requirements are reflected in the finished goods you receive.

So when is the right time to involve your supplier and QC staff in the checklist development process? And what important insight can they offer that will help with your product quality?

Involve your supplier as early as possible when creating your QC checklist
Without a clear idea of your requirements, most suppliers will happily accept your deposit and manufacture a product they guess is acceptable to you. That’s why it helps to provide suppliers with your QC checklist as early as possible and well before paying a deposit for an order. You’ll likely benefit from the extra layer of accountability that setting expectations upfront offers.

A checklist can also help you qualify potential suppliers during the sourcing process. Potential suppliers typically have a much clearer understanding of whether they can produce to your quality standards when they can see them in your checklist. And once you’ve settled on one supplier to work with, that supplier can work with you to set requirements that are achievable.

Consult your QC team about criteria ahead of inspection
Your QC checklist is the best resource for providing QC staff with instructions for inspecting your garment products. And since your QC team will be referring to this document to guide them during inspection, getting their feedback on it before inspection will help you avoid problems. Consulting your QC team when developing your checklist helps you by giving them the opportunity to:

  • Ask questions about any unclear inspection criteria and
  • Suggest any improvements to the outlined inspection procedure, such as preferred on-site testing standards for garments or common defects to report on
In both cases, feedback from QC staff can help you improve inspection and avoid misunderstandings that may require you to repeat inspection.

Keep suppliers and QC staff updated whenever there are changes to requirements
How can you expect your supplier to know that you’ve changed the single-needle stitching on your garment to chain stitching if their version of your checklist doesn’t reflect the change? How can your inspectors know that you’ve tightened the dimensional tolerances if the checklist they’re following still shows the old tolerances?

You could waste a lot of time from delays and money from defective goods if your supplier or QC team are following an outdated checklist. Anytime you make changes to your checklist that you expect your supplier and QC team to follow you must ensure that both parties have the updated checklist and are using it.

The best quality control systems should foster a feedback loop of constant improvement, leading to ever-effective checklists and better products.

Conclusion
Misinterpreting requirements is one of the chief causes for quality problems in garments and other products. And no other document helps importers clarify their requirements better than a detailed quality control checklist. Whether you’re in the early design phase of developing your product, looking for a supplier or waiting to receive your finished goods, it’s never too early or too late to outline what you expect from your supplier and QC team.

Follow this advice and be delighted by a smoother manufacturing experience with greater clarity, better relationships, fewer delays and happier customers.

About Author:


John Niggl
John Niggl is a client manager at InTouch Manufacturing Services, a Western-owned, third-party QC firm headquartered in Shenzhen, China. InTouch helps importers improve their product quality and manufacturing experience by offering product inspections, factory audits, lab testing and product sourcing in China, India, Vietnam and elsewhere throughout Asia.

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Mazharul Islam Kiron is a textile consultant and researcher on online business promotion. He is working with one European textile machinery company as a country agent. He is also a contributor of Wikipedia.


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