As the apparel supply chain seeks to move away from policing quality, brands and retailers are increasingly using buzzwords like “transparency” and “collaboration.” But it’s not possible for them to actually achieve these goals with the rudimentary tools most are using. As a result, there’s no way for brands and retailers to know which of their supply chain partners needs more third-party oversight and which could operate more autonomously.
Michael Bland, senior director at QIMA, made it clear in a recent fireside chat that going from full third-party oversight to a more internal oversight process isn’t something that happens overnight—it has to be gradual. But as much as brands may benefit from the visibility of bringing more of the oversight process in house, maintaining some form of monitoring by a third party is a must.
“You would never want to go all the way to zero,” Bland said. “Even if you thought, ‘This is my best supplier and I’m not having any [third-party] quality control,’ maintaining a little bit of positive pressure and monitoring by a third party is still a good idea. Maybe down to 10 percent oversight.”
Key metrics retailers and brands need to watch for when conducting inspections include the rate at which factories pass the first inspection and product defect rates, as well as how often they’re surpassing acceptable quality limits (AQLs).
In determining which suppliers need extra oversight and which can operate under a more “hands off” strategy, Bland said it all comes down to having more accurate data on the performance of the factories for each supplier, so that retailers can “trust, but verify, and really make this a quantitative, not a qualitative decision.”
Bland recommends that brands that have a compliance software in place should monitor that data for a period of three to six months across 100 percent of suppliers, their factories and the production lots and shipments. Upon discovering the best performers, the brand can then make a more data-driven decision on who they want to leave more autonomy to when it comes to quality control.
“You need to collect that data in a uniform way,” Bland said. “Whether it is a third party, whether it is that factory self-inspecting or whether it’s my own staff, I want to make sure that I, as the retailer or the brand doing the importing, can control what those standards are and how it’s collected. Then those other people implement those standards.”
The QIMAone software platform is designed to bring all those insights under one roof, with numerous features available to help retailers increase collaboration and ensure these standards are followed across their entire footprint.
For example, one of the mobile features is designed to empower inspectors from brands, factories or third-party agencies to efficiently conduct on-site inspections, following standardized checklists to collect consistent data and minimize errors. Users can access hundreds of QIMA inspection checklists for all consumer product lines, enabling brands to customize instructions based on best practices honed over millions of inspections.
“The point being that when the brand enters this into the system in a central location, it’s actually connected to an app that an inspector will see,” Bland said. “While [the brand] creates the checklist, they will actually have a preview live to see what it would look like on a smartphone or tablet so that it really is inspector focused.”
Click the video to learn more about why Bland thinks retailers and brands need to leverage more training to empower factory employees, and where he sees the expectations of product quality heading.