To establish a measure of the current state of quality inspections, industry professionals surveyed in the report referenced in the previous post – Quality in Global Fashion Supply – were asked to confirm their most important challenges both with regard to the industry and to their own companies and in both cases, pressure from the demand for ever lower prices and ever shorter lead times were placed at the top of the list.
Precisely, we will next delve into each and every one of the drivers of pressure on the product and fashion companies, starting with those that the managers and entrepreneurs of the sector are most concerned about.
Drivers of pressure on quality
The main challenges related to quality control in the fashion industry in general are the following (listed in order of importance according to the respondents):
Demand for lower prices | Timely delivery of products | Transparency at all levels of the supply chain | Sustainability | Access to historical data | Timeliness-efficiency | Isolated points in the supply chain | Too many manual processes | Forecasting-data analysis
Prices, always going down
98% of the professionals surveyed considered that the pressure from the demand for better prices is a current and permanent challenge for the industry with a direct impact on product quality. With respect to their own companies, 77% of respondents placed this topic in the same category.
One of the managers surveyed stated, “Prices of raw materials and other inputs are rising and retail prices are stagnating or falling; pressure is on all links in the supply chain, supply, production and quality!
This pressure is causing fashion brands and companies to move away from traditional manufacturing origins and into other emerging markets. At this point, it is critical to know that the more you save on FOB (product cost), through a change in the country of manufacture, you will need a reliable and robust process of auditing and quality control, so the budget in this area will need to increase.
Cost savings (FOB) equals new origin
If changing the manufacturing origin allows the brand to save money, it is a “fresh start” in terms of establishing a new production line in a new factory; in some cases, these new origins are cheaper because they are less qualified and have less experience than the usual origin.
Sean Cormier, assistant professor and director of the Department of Textile Development and Marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology, who has worked in thirty-four countries during his career in the fashion industry, said it’s time for managers of apparel companies to echo the effect it has had on the sector to pursue lower costs. “If you want to improve quality, you must maintain your investment in the area,” he concluded.
Cormier, like the other industry professionals surveyed, agrees that the best results – financial and otherwise – are achieved by forging solid, long-term relationships with factories. That is to say, to create strategic societies of mutual growth.
Speed of manufacture and shipment to the marketplace.
It is nothing new that the pressure to produce in ever shorter times and ship products to market was quickly identified as extremely challenging or challenging for 90% of respondents. The goal of maintaining the pace imposed by fast fashion and fashion’s obsession with the speed of market entry has made time the most precious commodity for the industry today.
Fashion executives and entrepreneurs stated that the race to meet the deadlines imposed by commercial calendars has a blast effect on the entire company. As one of them wisely stated, “As we face the constant pressure of speed-to-market and dropping costs, our product development teams focus much more on speed than on the actual situation of suppliers, leading to an early reduction of due diligence in the production and sourcing process, even before confirming orders and schedules”.
Cormier, in this regard, also expressed that recognized quality brands are now in a better position than those that have dropped it. “Ralph Laurent is an example; he is an icon because they have known how to control things. They have maintained the quality of materials and fabrics over time and thus managed to maintain the loyalty of their customers; they have even been able to charge a little more for their designs because their loyal customers know they will get quality.
Transparency in the supply chain
While only 46% of respondents felt that transparency at all levels is an extremely challenging issue for their own companies, 66% said it is an industry-wide problem.
“Visibility is everything,” said Greg Schlegel – founder of The Supply Chain Risk Management Consortium. “If I can detect a quality defect at the right time in the supply chain, I’m minimizing the risk and total value at risk because at that point in production it’s a lower-cost product and I can potentially mitigate that problem before it reaches the final stage, when the product will already be higher-priced”.
Part of the lack of transparency has to do with the isolation in which fashion brands and their associated companies work. Another reason is the large number of suppliers with whom they work, making oversight little less than impossible. Transparency is also affected by corruption detected in factories and at the level of the quality inspection process – a concern for 49% of the professionals surveyed – because they consider bribes to be very common.
Beyond price, pressure on delivery time and visibility, other areas such as sustainability, access to historical data and timeliness-efficiency were highlighted as important milestones for the industry as a whole. Regarding this relationship so relevant to new generations of consumers, speed together with responsibility, I recommend you read this previous article based on an exhaustive report by McKinsey: Responsible Fast Fashion.
Inexperienced, unskilled workforce
81% of the businessmen and professionals surveyed consider the lack of qualified labor in the industry to be a source of pressure.
The situation and its problems are directly related to the search for cost reductions (FOB) and the placement of production in new low-cost origins to achieve them. Due to this cycle, the fashion industry has been jumping from one low-cost country to another, looking for the lowest salaries to help it achieve the best purchase prices; although in the medium-long term they end up paying a different price and higher than the initial one.
Because when a fashion brand shifts its sourcing to a new origin it has to train the workers, but once they are trained, they begin to request (as is logical and desirable), better salaries, greater medical insurance coverage, more extra benefits and prices consequently increase. The cycle continues with a new transfer, where the labor cost is lower, but once again the process begins with unskilled and inexperienced workers.
Similarly, the focus on cost reduction robs the apparel industry of the most experienced and trained inspectors. “If you start off without experience, you enter the textile sector, learn the discipline of quality inspections and then move on to the automotive or electronics industry for a higher salary. Textiles are at the lower end,” Cormier said.
Now that we have analyzed the drivers of pressure that affect brands and the final quality of the product, in the next article we will complete the analysis of the report – The State of Quality Inspections in the Global Supply Chain 2018 By Sourcing Journal & Inspectorio – by knowing the final qualification of the current inspection processes and the measures that must be taken to improve the quality of clothing, footwear and fashion accessories. In addition, in that third article you will be able to download this comprehensive report for free.
Let’s meet again in the blog!