The mass cancellation of apparel orders throughout the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in an excess supply of raw materials that manufacturers and suppliers quickly pivoted into the products that survived the chopping block. That left a dearth of inputs once new orders began to flow again. This chain of events put supply chains under unprecedented pressure, and created questions around the quality and integrity of the resulting finished goods.
In the case of raw materials, the biggest concern would be swapping out fibers from nominated suppliers for whatever’s on hand, according to Wayne Buchen, vice president at molecular-based supply chain security company Applied DNA Sciences. And retailers that don’t have a full grasp of their supply chain might not even be able to tell the difference between a high-quality or low-quality fiber.
“If you’re a manufacturer, and you’ve been squeezed so tough and your businesses is suffering overseas—I’m not saying it’s happening—but why wouldn’t they use a lower-quality product, fiber or materials and then ship that into you?” Buchen asked. “You wouldn’t be able to know unless you started doing different testing and sending it out to third parties to see what it is.”
The Applied DNA Sciences team built the CertainT® platform specifically to enable brands to handle their own internal materials tagging and testing, whether at the yarn level or when the finished product arrives at the company warehouse.
The “tag, test and track” method is designed so people can use a mobile authentication device to collect data points from the material or product and monitor them throughout the entire supply chain. This includes information such as chain of custody and geolocation data.
“We all know everyone’s under margin pressure…but you own your brand, you own your product…You still need to stand up to your standards. Tag your raw materials, tag your finishes, tag your coatings,” Buchen said. “Make sure that you are authenticating your products.”
Although protecting quality means making investments, apparel companies don’t have the luxury to give up that control, Buchen said. If that inferior product fails or breaks, consumers will ultimately hold the brand responsible, not the supplier or even the retailer that sold the product.
Buchen recalled an infamous incident when basketball star Zion Williamson had a sneaker split open during a college game, resulting in an injury. Despite Nike, the manufacturer of the shoe, being one of the biggest brands in the world, the company still took heat for the blowout in the short term amid safety concerns.
“What about your child playing basketball in the yard, or you running and a sneaker falls apart and you get hurt,” Buchen said. “What’s the impact to the brand for inferior products?”
Brands should also be cautious about their products being sold in off-price and outlet retailers, he said. While many of them were vulnerable to receiving inferior products prior to the Covid-19, the decrease in demand for apparel meant that many suppliers and manufacturers were looking to offload these products anyway they could, regardless of quality level.
Click the image above to watch the video, as Buchen dives deeper into how a crisis like Covid-19 can lead to cut corners and reputational damage.