Global apparel supply chains have long faced challenges due to poor quality and visibility, but the situation has become much more intense amid COVID-19 disruptions and the ongoing supply chain crisis. Adding to that pressure is rising consumerism in today’s digital era. Consumers will not think twice before condemning a bad quality product on social media and thentagging the brand they purchased the product from.
Issues in quality have become even more salient in the last two years, with fashion brands facing congested ports, factory closures, long lead times, and volatile consumer habits. These factors, coupled with transportation restrictions, have compromised quality inspection processes at factories and distribution centres.
This situation has given way to higher rates of quality defects, heightened risks of product failure, shipment delays due to the time needed to rework rejected products, and, ultimately, an uptick in negative customer feedback. The estimated cost of poor quality represents up to 15 per cent of sales revenues, even in a thriving business, according to data from ASQ.
However, with problems come solutions. The changing demands of global sourcing, as well as the recent disruptions caused by the global pandemic, have amplified calls for increased visibility into the supply chain. This focus is pushing solution providers to collaborate with brands and suppliers even more aggressively. Through closer supplier relations, brands can more effectively anticipate and mitigate the risks associated with quality issues.
QIMAone, a quality inspection and compliance SaaS platform built by leading supply chain service provider QIMA, aims at enhancing collaboration between all players in the supply chain from raw goods factories to store. With QIMAone, all stakeholders are equipped with the tools to improve quality management programs, including real-time data collection from every step of the supply chain, intuitive dashboards with actionable insights, 360-degree views of sourcing networks, and customizable inspection checklists specific to the product and market.
Before we discuss how QIMAone is helpful for brands and vendors in their quality inspection processes, it is important to understand QC’s role in today’s marketplace and how quality standards have evolved in recent years.
Why is visibility important? What damages can a lack of visibility wreak on quality and production?
Lack of visibility is one of the key challenges to improving quality control and can lead to issues that can eat into revenue. The following are symptoms of poor supply chain visibility:
- Unauthorised outsourcing: If visibility into the supplier’s operation is limited, brands cannot know if their products are being manufactured in the factories they approved. A supplier could be outsourcing parts of a brands’ order without their knowledge, leading to lower quality scores.
- Lack of foresight: Another issue is that the brands cannot control raw material quality or reasonably predict shortages of components when their upstream suppliers are hit with disruptions.
- Inability to prioritise performance: Without data on quality trends across factories and suppliers, brands have no way of prioritizing high-performing suppliers or driving targeted improvement.
At the end of the day, the lack of transparency in the supply chain creates a climate of mistrust between brands and suppliers. This can escalate a vicious cycle where suppliers cut costs to preserve their margins, turn to unauthorized outsourcing to meet deadlines, and generally hope to “get away” with poor production practices.
However, digitising QC breaks this cycle. While many quality control players still largely use legacy tools like e-mail correspondence and spreadsheets to manage quality programs, a digital inspection platform like QIMAone enables new levels of automation and analytics to a function that has long been hampered by manual processes.
By tapping into data collection, machine-learning-enabled risk radar, and self-guided inspections, suppliers are empowered to contribute to the quality control process in ways they’ve never been able to before. The relationship transcends the typical client-vendor contract, with suppliers becoming true partners of the business. Thanks to the enhanced visibility into what’s happening on the ground with suppliers, QC issues can be caught earlier in the process rather than at the time of dispatch or at the distribution center. Most importantly, digital solutions can prevent poor-quality products from getting into the hands of consumers.
QIMAone provides the missing link in QC programs
While convenience, pricing, and overall value have traditionally been the main forces behind consumer trends in the past, quality is rising to the top of the agenda. For example, in a recent McKinsey survey on consumer sentiment, product quality was found to be a key driver for 40 per cent of younger consumers, signaling that the spotlight on quality will continue to shine bright well into the future.
QIMAone is helping brands adapt to evolving marketplace conditions so they can home in on quality inspection and compliance – now and for years to come.
By standardizing the end-to-end QC process for brands and vendors alike, QIMAone serves as a collaborative, knowledge-sharing platform. Essentially, it engages all stakeholders in the supply chain, including fabrics suppliers, knitting factories, mills, and stores.
The platform also manages a range of functions across QC,from workflows and on-site inspection requisites to check-ins on the factory floor, providing brands with a level of transparency previously unavailable. The software is built with two interfaces, one for brands and retailers and one for the factories and vendors. Both parties can empower their inspectors by using the QIMAone mobile app to conduct inspections, identify defects, take measurement and insert comments. Once the inspection is completed, a web interactive report, along with a PDF version, is automatically generated.
Case Studies: GUESS? Inc and Ariat International
Leading fashion brand GUESS? Inc recently expanded its collaboration with QIMA and adopted QIMAone, an investment that proved to be critical for navigating pandemic-induced disruptions.
In 2021, GUESS? Inc operated 1,570 stores globally, distribution centers in over 100 countries, and a network of contracted suppliers in 30 countries. With this vast global footprint, it’s not hard to imagine the complexities of managing QC during lockdowns, travel restrictions, and supply chain shortages.
Previously, GUESS used Excel to manage its QC process, which made it difficult to extract data correctly. Manual entry often yielded typos and the requisites were not in sequential order. Additionally, we received different types of reports from different vendors, with no uniformity.
However, QIMAone helped GUESS increase quality and speed to market–even during peak disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The platform combines onsite quality checkingwith quality audits from GUESS’ distribution center. This helps them to evaluate vendors and make the right decisions on future allocations. Furthermore, internal meetings have become simplified because the company can pull designated reports from the dashboard to assess how a particular vendor is performing.
To ensure the accuracy of the data collected by QIMAone inspectors, GUESS developed a standardized workflow checklist for all auditors to follow. As auditors run through the checklist, QIMAone flags if a picture is blurred or not showing defects correctly.
Currently, GUESS is using QIMAone at its distribution centers in Europe and North America with plans to onboard its vendors and suppliers around the globe.
Ariat International, a US-based apparel and footwear brand, has also deployed QIMAone to improve communication, transparency, and collaboration on product quality.
QIMAone has enabled Ariat to collect reliable data on inspections and achieve a more accurate view of product quality within its supply chain. The platform has also empowered Ariat’s apparel suppliers to contribute to the QC process, giving them the ability to conduct self-inspections. With QIMAone, Ariat’s QC team has gained access to powerful visibility tools to analyze results, plan corrective actions and monitor progress.
One of Ariat’s key priorities is unifying the quality standards across its apparel factories.Through QIMAone’s interface, Ariat’s quality team canimport their existing standards easily and seamlessly distribute these to any vendor they work with. If any changes are made to the checklist, updated versions are automatically disseminated to inspectors and suppliers.
By ensuring all inspections in Ariat’s apparel sourcing network are conducted according to the up-to-date QC requirements, the company is minimizing human error and the need for manual follow-up. By automating routine tasks, such as inspection booking and scheduling, Ariat’s back-office teams have gained new levels of efficiency and productivity. This has allowed them to focus on proactively improving the brand’s sourcing network.
“The QIMAone quality management platform could not have come at a better time. We’re confident QIMAone will help us to establish the transparency and synchronization required to ensure product quality, drive proactive continuous improvement and reduce costs,” said George Rodriguez, vice president of sourcing, procurement and quality at Ariat.
Apparel Resources (AR) spoke with QIMA Founder & CEO Sebastien Breteau about his point of view on today’s trends in the apparel industry, especially in the Asian manufacturing landscape.
AR: How old is QIMAone? What was the idea behind the launch of this platform in the industry?
Sebastien: QIMA, founded 16 years ago, is a global leader in inspection, audit, testing and certification solutions. From day one, QIMA developed digital technologies internally to help our inspectors perform inspections more efficiently. By using standardized instructions and reports, QIMA can leverage the data collected on the field to provide actionable analytics and risk analysis to clients. After receiving client feedback on the challenges they faced in transparency and efficiency with suppliers, and the need for open platform tools, QIMA launched QIMAone in late 2020.
QIMAone provides brands, retailers and manufacturers with a single digital platform for collaboration and continuous improvement. The solution connects the brands with all their business partners across every stage of the value chain, from raw materials to store: any stakeholder, from factory workers to third party inspectors, or the company’s own teams, can be assigned to collect efficiently quality data and collaborate for improved visibility in the supply network.
AR: Are you seeing an uptick in the use of digital quality management solutions especially in India and Bangladesh? How important are these two markets for your business perspectives?
Sebastien: We’re starting to see broader adoption of digital solutions within the supply chain globally, particularly in light of the current challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and raw material shortages. In our annual survey on the digitisation of the supply chain with a focus on quality and compliance, we discovered nearly half(46 per cent) of the respondents in Asia had started to digitise their supply chain processes mainly due to the COVID-19. We’re working closely with clients and suppliers in India and Bangladesh, two key markets for the apparel industry, to ensure QC is an important piece of digitisation efforts.
As brands work to unify efforts and strengthen their relationships with suppliers, particularly as production shifts from places like China and Vietnam to India and Bangladesh, digital quality management solutions which empower collaboration and risk mitigation capabilities, enable them to uphold quality standards and protect their global supply chains.
AR: What challenges do QIMAone and its team face in the changing apparel manufacturing landscape in Asia? How are you gearing up to solve those issues?
Sebastien: The apparel landscape has changed significantly over the last several years due to rapid shifts in consumer behavior, stunted supply chains, and shortages in raw materials. Over the last five years or so, many brands have diversified their suppliers away from China to countries like India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. In QIMA’s 2022 Q1 Barometer report that tracks inspection and audit data, we reported double-digit growth in demand throughout 2021 in South Asia. India in particular saw the most growth, outperforming its neighbors and the region in all but one quarter of 2021.
However, supplier diversification can lead to challenges in terms of visibility, onboarding and quality, and compliance performance. QIMAone provides clients with an accurate view of what’s happening on the ground by leveraging cutting-edge technologies – such as AI, voice recognition, and automation. Our Risk Radar feature helps brands identify high-risk orders and trigger preventive quality inspections to anticipate potential issues. Additionally, our supply chain mapping feature enables brands to map their entire supply chain from raw materials factories straight through to stores to better manage any quality and sourcing issues.
At QIMA, our success is measured by our ability to solve our client’s challenges. We address the challenges our clients face head-on – as if they are our own. To support this, we have a dedicated R&D team in France and Asia. They are equipped with specialized skills in data sciences, software development, and UI/UX. We also consistently solicit feedback from our clients to ensure we’re including product updates and new feature rollouts in our roadmap.
AR: How does the technology of QIMAone work? What are the requisites (such as tablets, apps etc.) for brands and manufacturers to migrate their quality inspection process digitally?
Sebastien: QIMAone is a cloud-based, device-agnostic software platform, meaning it can work on any device whether it be a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. The beauty of our solution is that it doesn’t require intense IT development or configuration. You can connect to the platform through a URL. We also have a dedicated success team with direct QC experience, which helps brands onboard their users, develop checklists, and create automated workflows based on unique brand requirements.
AR: Digitizing processes means collecting an extensive amount of data that can help make the right decisions. How does QIMAone help apparel businesses make data-driven decisions in quality inspection and management?
Sebastien: QIMAone makes data collection along the supply chain very easy and efficient as all data points are imported to the platform from the user’s device. Our analytics engine then analyzes those data points and turns them into actionable analytics. For example,a tool called Risk Radar assesses an order’s level of risk based on multiple, customizable criteria on the product and the factories. This accounts for past audit results, location, average failure rate, and past integrity issues.
AR: How is QIMAone different from other software available on the market?
Sebastien: QIMAone is built upon the expertise of the millions of inspections QIMA auditors conduct each year, making it so much more than a piece of software. It is a solution backed by industry-leading best practices and embedded TIC services. The platform gives clients access to thousands of certified QIMA inspectors and auditors. In just one click, they are available within 48 hours to inspect goods or audit factories anywhere in the world.