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Sunday, August 26, 2007

China Quality Problems and their Lesson for Alterations Boutiques

I want to state outfront I am not a party to bashing China for its export quality problems of late. However, these issues provide some lessons for US independent apparel designers and retailers.

Despite China's great need for development and implementation of quality standards and regulations quality is not something to be injected at the end of a process.

In recent years major apparel retailers have done away with backroom alterations departments choosing instead to "outsource" these duties to independent alterations boutiques. It is these boutiques who took on the task (and economic opportunity) of injecting quality into a product which, had it been tested before it left the factory, would have failed the quality test. The market will sustain neither designers nor retailers who compromise quality for productivity and sales.

I contend quality problems are related to lack of, or, inferior training.

You can not shortcut the training process with assumptions a trainee knows what is expected in your operation.
Training in method is best followed up with the voice of experience to provide valuable advice and tips on improving flow.
A well-learned process results in quality with productivity yield increases as familiarity becomes second nature for process operators.
Further, I find too many independent retailers assume they cannot compete against low-price imports. The assumption is that since these sell as big as they do through Walmart and the like consumers neither care nor pay for quality. Wrong. Consumers buy what mega corporations decide will turn the biggest profit FOR THE CORPORATION, not the consumer. Corporations then proceed to squeeze out their competition by flooding the market with their low-price imports. If corporations were to decide they would sell high-price quality-only items and proceeded to market their quality-only message to the consumer they would soon squeeze out their low-quality competitors. The reality of corporate decisions is that when it comes to sales a wider, diverse target market is preferred to a small, exclusive one. Hence, for mega corporations, low-price holds the greater promise for bigger profits.

Finally, too many independent retailers want to play like the major retailers. They shop their goods at merchandisers (whose goods are low-price imports they rachet-up for resellers, typically) buying bulk quantities their boutiques cannot handle tying up precious large sums of capital.

Quality control is not a subsitute for inability or unwillingness to teach quality to those who would enable you to grow your business.

The solution to quality and supply issues in apparel is not China size. It's small, local independent contractor, or designer, networks which supply quality apparel for local independent apparel retailers.

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