Reprinted from Supply Chain Matters

The apparel industry’s supply chain crisscrosses the globe. In concept, that’s pretty exciting. In reality, it’s fraught with complications. Glitches can occur, errors can be made and consistent communication can be at-times, be challenging.

The supply chain can be interrupted due to all kinds of issues – some can be quite surprising!

Often, quality issues in apparel supply chains stem from a few key factors:

  • As retailers pressure offshore manufacturers to meet tight timeframes, an overwhelmed factory may subcontract work. This is a prime opportunity for a breakdown in communication, resulting in garments that don’t meet specifications.
  • When a retailer begins working with a new supplier, it can take time before the factory fully understands the retailer’s quality expectations.
  • If offshore manufacturers seek to increase profit margins, they may substitute inferior fabric or trim.

As a third-party apparel refurbisher, my company often receives frantic calls from apparel manufacturers, distributors, and retailers in the midst of a supply chain crisis. They have received a problematic shipment and need help getting first-quality garments on the shelves and online.

Here’s a sampling of just three situations that have interrupted our customers’ supply chain:

  1. Cartons of clothing had soaked in salt water – Due to a storm at port, a retailer’s shipping container with 20,000 pairs of pants had been submerged in salt water. (This is not your typical supply chain challenge!) We conducted an ozone shock treatment to remove mold and mildew, then pressed, re-ticketed, and repackaged the pants – all in time for the company’s big promotion.
  2. Correcting 56,000 mislabeled t-shirts – A retailer’s entire shipment of t-shirts arrived from the overseas manufacturer with the wrong size screen-printed on the shirts. After completing an inspection to determine correct sizes, we used a cover-up heat transfer label to overlay the correct size.
  3. 43,000 stuck zippers put $2 million in sales at risk – Beyond broken buttons, apparel often requires a variety of sewing repairs. In one case, we repaired the zippers on 43,000 sweatshirts (the zippers had the wrong slider). In another case, we replaced the red drawcord on 8,000 pajama bottoms (the dye was bleeding and staining the pajamas). In another example, the retailer’s durability test uncovered an issue with 5,000 men’s sleeveless shirts – the armholes needed to be repaired and properly reinforced. In yet another example, we repaired 16,000 lady’s wool pants with inseams that were randomly too long or too short; clearly, the garment measurements didn’t match the original factory specifications.

Mistakes are made from time to time – it’s a fact-of-life. Combine this with the notions that many retailers have implemented just-in-time inventory strategies. As a result, when apparel is produced offshore but doesn’t meet quality specs, it’s too time-consuming and costly to ship the product back.\

Unfortunately, apparel refurbishment services are an inevitable reality of today’s globally extended apparel supply chain.

Who bears the cost of refurbishment?

Depending on the contractual relationship, the retailer may charge the cost back to the original manufacturer. What if the specs were unclear? Retailers prize their relationship with quality apparel manufacturers so, in some cases, the retailer and offshore factory may share the cost.

A U.S. or domestic based refurbisher can help to minimize fall-out rate, avoid consumer returns, and return garments to first-quality condition. An experienced third-party refurbisher is an important link in the apparel supply chain, helping to ensure manufacturers, distributors, and retailers can quickly get products into customers’ hands.