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The Five Pillars of Footwear Quality Assurance

The supply chain bottlenecks that have persisted over the past year have led many brands to worry about delivery delays and rising freight and raw material prices. And while getting the shopper the product swiftly is a top priority, brands can’t afford to ignore quality assurance issues that can occur from the source to the store.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, footwear brands in particular have wrestled with this problem, as more orders are delivered with the incorrect soles, the wrong color or even a different upper material than expected.

They’ve also dealt with a high prevalence of mold. When overseas factories first shuttered in early 2020, products that were already manufactured weren’t shipped out, forcing them to be stored in unfavorable conditions that have continued amid the backlogs.

In a recent chat with Sourcing Journal founder and president Edward Hertzman, Paul Bridge, deputy vice president of global footwear services at testing, inspection and certification company SGS, identified the three major issues in footwear production today.

“The number one issue is mold,” Bridge said. “Number two is poor sole bonding. This is a production issue so if you’re not keeping your eye on production, you’re going to have problems. The third is Chrome VI, a hazardous chemical that can be produced in the leather manufacturing process. What I think has been missing is hands and feet on the ground.”

Bridge also highlighted five pillars of quality assurance that footwear brands must adopt if they want to ensure their shoes are up to speed for the consumer.

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First, there’s a technical factory assessment (TFA) that should occur before the brand places a purchase order with a factory. The TFA includes a basic assessment of quality management procedures, incoming material quality controls and on-floor inspection, among other steps.

The second pillar, a pre-production readiness check (PRC), includes materials inspections to ensure the right materials are purchased and that the samples match production, fitting and size.

On-site production control (OPC) is the third pillar, which kicks off each production stage. Bridge said this step assures that the shoes are operationally manufactured the correct way to avoid any bottlenecks. Site verification methods are designed to ensure factories have the capacity and capability to produce the ordered shoes, and that production processes and worker capabilities are in place.

The final two processes are during production control (DUPRO) and final random inspection (FRI), which Bridge said are the most commonly used by most footwear brands. DUPRO inspections assess samples against regulations, standards and contractual agreements, highlighting actual or potential defects that can be addressed immediately. FRI occurs on-site on the finished product, including visual tests for appearance, performance, packaging and workmanship.

Of the five pillars listed, Bridge said that unfortunately the TFA is still the most neglected during the Covid-19 era.

“Purchasing directors are placing orders out into Asia with a factory that says they’ve got the capacity,” Bridge said. “But do you know they’ve got the capacity, the capability or the quality assurance procedures in place? You know it because they’ve told you and you’ve got nobody on the ground to check in. That’s why there have been issues.”

Click the image on the video above to learn more about the challenges in the post-Covid footwear supply chain.