Write Your Own Quality Control Manual

Sure, you might not be running your own factory. But what you can take into your own hands is quality control. As you get started, you’ll need to get acquainted with the components of a quality control manual to guide your efforts. Here’s what you need to consider, and how your suppliers will use it to inform the production of your items. Given that even one incorrect measurement or not-quite-right fabric can throw off your production run entirely, quality control is an integral part of delivering an item as intended.

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Pinpoint Your Specifications

First, you’ll need to identify your product’s specifications. This includes:

  • • Materials
  • • Colors/finish
  • • Assembly and workmanship
  • • Size, including weight and measurements
  • • Packaging instructions including labels, tags, sticks, and shipping cartons and labels

You can find most of this information in your tech pack or in production documents. In some cases, designers, will choose to copy pages of a production guide to include in the manual. Typically, as long as you include detailed diagrams and photos, alongside a spreadsheet with the requisite corresponding data, the format can be tweaked as you like.

Another element to include is ‘tolerances’. Essentially, a tolerance is a deviation from the listed specifications that won’t negatively impact the final product. An example used by Liz Long notes that “a label can be sewn 2” from the top seam, +/- ¼”, with the ¼ allowance being the tolerance.” In the manual, this would be noted next to the specification. In some cases, you’ll find that a specification must remain as is, such as if you’re working with a particular fabric or stitch.

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Categorize Defects

Best practice indicates that a list of defects (organized by category), should be included in a separate section of your manual. This could be a chart with descriptions for each, and is often fleshed out with corresponding diagrams. Often, a company will recommend that tests be performed to identify defects, whether that’s opening and closing clasps or doing stress tests on seams.

There are three different defect categories:

Critical: A critical defect is potentially harmful, and could hurt the user or wearer. This could be a sharp object or an unmarked flammable substance.

Major: A major defect could be a large split or rip in the item – something that a buyer would refuse, and would in turn affect sales.

Minor: A minor defect likely wouldn’t affect the experience for the buyer, but falls out of line with the specifications and tolerances.

Why should you point out these defects? A couple of reasons. First, if you’ve engaged somebody to do quality control inspects, they’ll need to know exactly how to determine whether or not something is acceptable. Otherwise, they may make the wrong judgment, leaving your product different from how you’d envisioned it.

Further, it’ll enable you to accurately evaluate your supplier. While critical defects are typically nixed by all suppliers, the threshold for acceptability ranges up to 4.0% for minor defects and 2.5% for major defects. While you don’t need to look out for perfect, necessarily, your supplier should have a low tolerance for defects so that you can rest assured your product will be completed to specification.

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Talk To Your Suppliers

After noting all of the above – and any additional instructions specific to your product – your quality control manual is ready to go. For ease of communication, turn it into a digital file to share with your contacts. However, many suppliers prefer hard copies, so it’s worthwhile finding out what they’d rather work with before you send it their way.

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Another trick? Ensure that the last date the manual was updated is listed on your document, so as changes are made there’s no confusion from people referencing older guides.

Don’t feel uncomfortable about making it clear to your supplier that they read the manual prior to starting production. It’s also not uncommon to mock up a document for them to sign that states that the quality control manual document has been read. You should also take the time to highlight any unusual or highly important specifications, tricky defects, or tests.

Now that you know your way around quality control, you can get stuck into the details of production. Take our free Production 101 e-course to get started! 

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