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How to Avoid the Compliance Speed Trap

Too often in the apparel supply chain, the left hand may not know what’s happening with the right, though they’re both likely to have a huge impact on the company’s overall performance. Such is the case with compliance. Frequently those operations, as they relate to chemicals, social issues, regulatory compliance and quality, are run separately from product development, though they ultimately play a big part in determining whether products make it to market on time—if at all.

Fail to test, and you could end up with finished goods not fit for stores. Fail to communicate raw materials test results, and you’ll likely find yourself retesting goods at the end of the process. As the focus on speed has heightened, companies have become more aware of the need to handle compliance differently.

“Compliance functions across all of the disciplines are often times siloed in much the same way that quality was siloed 20 to 30 years ago. Since then, we’ve realized the need for incorporating quality processes earlier to give us a higher chance of shipping quality product,” said Joe Walkuski, CEO of Texbase, a materials, testing and compliance management solution company. “We find that compliance work happens with internal departments, in their own space, managing their own data. But if we integrate the process—like quality—then we’re engineering compliance into raw materials and trim components for example, saving time and money.”

Through the Texbase platform the data collected from brands, suppliers and labs all live in one place, facilitating the ability to streamline the process. That data is also available to internal groups to access raw material test results or view already approved materials, reducing additional testing down the line—resulting in cost and time savings.

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That’s been the experience for Harrie Schoots, business development manager of Ascend Performance Materials, which recently launched Endur, a yarn that repels lint and hair. Prior to adopting Texbase’s platform, the company found it challenging to bring the innovation to market simply because of communication—or the lack thereof.

As is the case with many premium fibers, Endur yarn requires mills to handle it correctly in order to get the ideal performance out of the resulting fabric. If not, what follows is a painstaking process spent attempting to determine what went wrong. Schoots said it wasn’t uncommon for weeks to be lost as emails crossed and information was misplaced, all the while staffing changes amongst stakeholders meant parts of the process had to start all over again. And it was all because the process wasn’t communicated or followed properly.

“Using Texbase saves three months—or even up to six months,” he said, because everyone is logged into the system, held accountable to the proscribed process and capable of pulling any necessary data, as needed.

By removing the guesswork and streamlining interactions, Ascend faces fewer speed bumps on the way to market.

Similarly, Xcel Brands is looking for ways to smooth out the road to the racks. The company, which creates the H Halston, Isaac Mizrahi and C Wonder labels, is leaning into standardization.

“The more variability we can take out of the process, the faster we can go,” said Xcel Brands CEO and chairman Robert D’Loren. Xcel breaks its product assortment into three categories: fashion, fashion core and core, and the product cycles for each vary accordingly. But none are more than 12 weeks and the quickest turn is less than six. To achieve this speed goal, the company purchases large quantities of fabric and designs into it as needed—but it doesn’t stop there. “You can’t expect to go from sketch to store in six weeks if the inputs aren’t positioned.”

Where possible—which includes everything but the most trendy pieces in the company’s lines—designers create looks from “bins” of pre-approved materials broken down by price point. “Everything has been tested. Everything meets our quality standards and our specifications,” he said. “The more you pretest, the faster you can go.”

And the less you’ll spend in testing, Walkuski noted.

But as is often the case, to save money, you’ll have to spend money by investing in tools that bring organization and visibility to the process. And that’s where many companies get stuck. In a time when margins are thin and retail is still attempting to battle back, the C-suite may initially be resistant to any changes with costs associated with them.

Walkuski said in this case, however, the advantages are clearly demonstrable. For instance, he said, by quantifying the results of working in exactly the way D’Loren described, you can show how testing every finished SKU for, say, flammability is much more costly and time consuming than testing the fabric before it goes into production.

With those numbers behind you, getting buy-in from the top should prove much easier. “The best way is to speak in dollars and cents,” Walkuski said.

And that argument will speak louder going forward, as the industry becomes even more focused on inventory management, according to D’Loren.

“There’s a push for less product on the floor—sell out as opposed to markdown,” he said. “And as you see physical stores shrinking, there will be a heightened need for speed.”

To hear more from Robert, Harrie and Joe on this subject, check out Sourcing Journal’s recent webinar: The Compliance Speed Trap, which is currently posted on Texbase’s website.