When shopping, I highly doubt most people think about everything that went into making the items they have their eyes on. If so, those folks may simply think that certain materials were chosen because of their softness, or that the fit was a generic cut designed to be suitable for all body types. But this is actually the opposite of the truth. In fact, this is not what most brands concern themselves with at all.
Understanding the Importance of Tough Tests
Brands actually perform extensive tests before choosing the materials for their new products – to make sure that the cotton they have chosen doesn’t shrink, the leather they purchased doesn’t get dirty, or that the denim they have decided to use doesn’t fade out quickly. Testing materials and samples is a fundamental part of quality control.
Brands never want to put items on the shelves that will get returned, nor do they want to deal with customers who are unhappy with their purchases. So, instead of spending time on fixing future problems, brands tend to focus on producing initial quality products. In most cases, what goes into a product is usually considered long before that product is ever even a figment of the customers’ imagination.
Making the Most of the Testing Phase
There are some pretty important questions to ask yourself while your product is in the testing phase:
- Who are my customers?
- What will be my customers’ intended purposes for this particular product?
- How will this product need to be cared for or washed?
- How long is this product expected to last?
Be sure to ask yourself these things during the analysis of your prototypes, materials, and samples – just to maintain a strong feel for the overall quality of your product. Answering these questions on behalf of your brand will provide you with a better understanding of the market, and it will allow you to develop better products in the end.
Testing Your Prototypes
Analyzing prototypes should always be the very first phase of creating a new product. Note that this crucial step is best taken during development because it allows for any and all issues to be brought to light, thus preventing them from becoming costly problems in the future.
At this phase of testing, all items should be “beat up” as much as possible in order to discover any inherent weaknesses or design flaws. Problems could be as minor as needing to change to a more durable thread, but issues could be something as big as needing to change the entire fit of a shoe because it is too narrow and tight. Whatever the discovery, make sure all alterations are applied when making samples.
Testing Your Materials
Testing your chosen materials helps prevent using faulty resources in the production of your items. All materials – from rubber soles and leather to fabrics and hardware – need to be tested to ensure you are delivering the quality you want to achieve.
When I am testing leather, for example, I want to make sure the texture, color saturation, and durability are just right. I know that I won’t move forward with it if I am even somewhat insecure about the quality. I actually learned this lesson during my first season when I mistakenly ordered “raw” leather, which easily attracted everything from unsightly fingerprints and ugly scuffs from body nudges. Because of that debacle, I now make sure all my leather is Scotch Guarded – that way even rain will slide down it and nothing will stick.
In addition, you definitely want to know about fabric shrinkage, coloration, grain, fade, and elasticity when it comes time to test your materials. Keep in mind that every fabric has its own unique qualities – silk is different than wool, latex is not the same as cotton, and so on. Also, make sure to consult your fabric supplier before purchasing your materials because they may know something don’t.
Testing Your Hardware
We never want to use hardware that will chip or tarnish, and we don’t purchase zippers unless they have an easy glide. The worst possible scenario: a customer purchases something that chips and all the hardware on the bag must be replaced.
Once upon a time we purchased matte black hardware because it looked super cool, but it would begin to chip after it was worn. As a result, we did not move forward with production using that particular hardware. Imagine the nightmare it would be having to replace every single hook and d-ring for an entire production run!
Also, it is vital that you test all grommets, buttons, and snaps as well. Be sure to ask yourself these questions:
- How will this hardware and/or material hold up after wear and tear?
- What will happen after the item is worn a couple times?
- Will this item exemplify the quality I want for my brand?
Once you have determined the quality of your design, materials, and hardware you can then move on to what I consider to be the most exciting part of the entire process: testing your final samples.
Testing Your Samples
Congrats! You now have a sample made from approved materials, with all the changes from the prototype phase made. Next, you have to test the mechanics of your final sample. This is where I “beat up” my item, just to make sure it works under the stresses of everyday life.
Items that we own are sometimes not taken care of as much as the things we rent or borrow. That’s why I drag my sample on streets, throw it into the car, and swing it around roughly – just to see what happens. Of course, these are some pretty extreme testing measures. Then again, you never know what could go wrong so it’s best to be safe rather than sorry.
One time, I accidentally dropped my sample off the roof of my apartment building in Manhattan. It fell 20 stories but lived to be worn again. Only the eyelets popped out, which was an easy fix for my factory. The structure of the bag had some minor damage, but by accidentally dropping my sample I discovered that I created a durable item that could survive a deadly fall.
I am only touching the surface here. When it comes to a brand testing their products to ensure the highest quality, a lot must be done. Luxury brands, in particular, typically go to great lengths making sure the testing phase points out the best products for their discerning clients. The amount of testing needed, however, depends on the kind of item you’re trying to create.
It’s my hope that this article gives you some ideas about quality control for your own items. I also hope you have a newfound respect and understanding for what all goes into creating and delivering a timeless product to the market. If you have any questions, or any experiences you’d like to share, please be sure to add them to the Comments box below. Feel free to connect with us at @laurencecchi as well!
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