Skip to main content

Defect Calibration: A Key Tool for Reducing Errors and Chargebacks

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.

That’s why, 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.

The importance of outlining quality standards and expectations

To achieve effective defect calibration, brands have to methodically outline quality standards and expectations with their factories regarding what’s classified as a defect.

While this action may seem obvious, consider the state of communication and understanding at your factories. If you were to ask the key 15 to 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.

And it gets worse. Now consider the state of communication with your retailers. Like your factories, it’s highly likely that you don’t fully understand each of your retailer’s standards for what’s considered a critical, major and minor defect.

If you aren’t clear on each retailer’s expectations, how can you relay the correct standards to your factories? The answer is, you can’t.

Related Stories

Is a loose thread a 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 would it have to be? The problem is that most companies don’t specify the exact length at which a loose thread becomes a major defect.

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

Employing a retailer-specific approach to defect calibration

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 will pay for the product without requesting a discount, the defect should likely be classified as minor. But if the defect is significant enough that consumers of a different retailer will only purchase the product if it’s discounted by 30 percent to 50 percent, it should probably be classified as a major defect.

Since retailers have different expectations of product quality based on their consumers, brands should define and adjust their defect classifications accordingly. From there, they should educate their factories about 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.

The books should include pictures and figures specifying the length at which a loose thread is classified as a major defect. And, if the brand or retailer has multiple sets of quality specifications (like one for a mass-market line and one for a top-tier line), separate 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.

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


Jose R. Suarez is the founder and CEO of Impactiva, the world’s leading quality and supply chain optimization solution provider for the apparel, footwear, and leather goods industries. Learn more at