Blog

5 Common Garment Testing Challenges and How to Overcome Them

February 13, 2023

Quality operations ensure manufactured products fit the requirements of brands and retailers, but garment testing assesses their real-world durability and safety.

As with all supply chain operations, garment testing or textile testing has its share of challenges. Finding a reliable testing partner, storing data securely, and ensuring test results are accurate and comprehensive can be difficult. Add to that keeping up with an ever-changing regulatory landscape, and garment testing can quickly become overwhelming.

All of these put fast fashion or apparel companies in a tricky position: how to ensure their products’ safety, performance, and compliance without compromising on speed, cost and quality?

What is garment testing?

Garment testing applies to all types of garments, including clothing, footwear, and accessories. It involves evaluating the performance and safety of raw materials, textile fibres, woven fabrics, knitted fabrics, synthetic fibers and other materials used in garment manufacturing through physical and chemical analysis.

Lab technicians subject garments to various tests:

  1. Test the accuracy of the fabric in terms of colourfastness, shrinkage, pilling, seam slippage, abrasion resistance and other properties
  2. Check how resilient the garment is to factors like sunlight, abrasion, stretching, compressing, chemicals, washing, and sweat
  3. Test for flammability, optical brighteners, and hazardous chemicals
  4. Check for any physical defects or non-compliance with industry standards
  5. Test dyeing and printing processes

During testing, technicians use a variety of methods and instruments. This can include colourimeters, flex testers, spectrophotometers, washability testers, and more. The exact tests and instruments depend on each garment and its intended use.

Why is garment testing important?

Garment testing puts the quality and safety of products in quantitative terms, which provides hard data points for brands, retailers, and vendors to assess the performance of their production chain.

Supply chain managers use testing results to zero in on where in the manufacturing process a defect is occurring. Based on the results of garment testing alone, a manager can often trace problems to their roots with startling precision, deducing that a certain machine in a faraway factory is not moving folds properly, is incorrectly loading fabric, or is excessively heating or cooling. This helps them target the problem directly instead of throwing money at the entire process.

Furthermore, garment testing is of ever-increasing importance to the sustainability of the fashion industry.

As a 2022 study pointed out, the lifetime of today’s garments is “unduly short due to inadequate technical quality.” This study found the two most common causes of failure to be color fading and pilling — two parameters covered by garment testing. Other common causes of failure included fabric breakdown, loss of dimensional stability, and discoloration, all of which testing is responsible for assessing.

According to Textile Technology Source, “looking to the future in textile testing, there is general agreement that regulations will increase and this will impact the industry.” While companies often perform internal lab testing on their products, “specific customer demands and geographical locations mean that additional tests sometimes need to be carried out externally.”

As we shall see below, the need for both internal and external garment testing adds to the challenges faced by brands, retailers, and vendors.

5 most common garment testing challenges

With stricter requirements than ever before and supply chain complexity at an all-time high, brands and retailers face significant challenges in expanding garment testing capabilities at scale — particularly when integrating testing results with other data to achieve a broader view of quality operations.

These are the five most common challenges in garment testing today:

1. Poor fabric quality

Poor fabric quality can include overly tight or loose construction, dense weight, low breaking or burst strength, high pilling or surface fuzz, and coloration issues.

Garment testing isolates these problems in various ways:

  • During breaking strength tests, technicians subject garments to mechanized stretching to measure their elongation and how much force they are able to endure.
  • In bursting strength tests, garments undergo compression under a hydraulic press, which measures how much pressure they can withstand before the fibers break.
  • An abrasion resistance test assesses the durability of the fabric against continuous abrasion as specified roughness and pressure.
  • Pilling tests apply abrasion to a fabric sample to determine whether balls of fabric form on its surface, as well as whether this causes color change or surface fuzz.
  • Colorfast tests determine how a garment’s dye or coloration resists change after exposure to UV radiation, pollutants, wash cycles, chemicals, and sweat.

Any of these tests can reveal poor fabric quality, and that lack of quality can lead to significant costs for all stakeholders if it is not easily correctable.

2. Inadequate testing facilities

Garment testing facilities must be able to rigorously test products to the specifications put forth by various internationally recognized institutions like the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC), which created the Colorfast Test Methods and Standards.

Different testing facilities around the globe will have different equipment and methods for performing tests. While many can satisfactorily comply with requirements, others lack the equipment and tools to thoroughly test products.

This poses a risk to all stakeholders, as inadequate garment testing facilities may green-light a product that is defective, low-quality, or even dangerous to consumers. If that product reaches the end consumer and is found to be out of compliance with that market’s regulations, the results can be disastrous.

3. Lack of qualified personnel

When a garment testing facility lacks the ability to train and monitor their personnel, brands and retailers end up basing decisions on untrustworthy results. Garment testing laboratories use highly technical equipment and processes to conduct fabric examinations, which in turn requires high skill levels, consistency, honesty, and an eye for detail.

Brands, retailers, and other stakeholders rely on facilities to employ and monitor adequately trained employees.

4. Strict regulations

Every single apparel market on earth is facing stricter regulations as concerns about climate change, water and air quality, ethical sourcing, and consumer safety grow. The United States, Europe, Asia, and other markets, will all face yet another round of tough fashion regulations in 2023 specifically aimed at curbing the waste of fast fashion.

This puts ever more pressure on garment testing to deliver accurate results, as brands and retailers depend on such services to plan a product’s life cycle and avoid fines and lawsuits.

5. Limited budget

A limited budget means supply chain managers must extract the maximum possible value from each part of quality operations, including garment testing. All of the above challenges translate to additional financial costs, making garment testing a necessary but potentially expensive part of the process.

Where quality is concerned, traditional supply chain oversight involves manual processes rife with inefficiencies and delayed reporting. When garment testing enters such an equation, it’s not only more difficult to access data, but it’s also more difficult to see the broader picture of how test results relate to other supply chain data.

How to overcome these challenges

Here are some more steps you can take to overcome garment testing challenges:

1. Improve fabric quality through proper sourcing

When you don’t understand where your materials and products are coming from, you leave yourself vulnerable to poor quality, PR scandals, and disruptions. Garment testing is an excellent way to confirm that what you ordered is what you’re getting, but without a way to view your whole supply chain on one platform, it will remain a fire extinguisher instead of a systemic fix.

Having full visibility over your supply chain ensures the materials you’ve specified are coming from the sources you’ve approved, and that manufacturing is taking place to your requirements and standards.

2. Invest in updated testing tools and facilities

Whether you’re conducting in-house or external garment testing, it’s important to invest in either procuring the latest tools or hiring up-to-date facilities. Work with labs that are internationally accredited and that use best-in-class tools and techniques.

3. Hire qualified personnel with garment testing experience

Garment testing is a human activity, and gaining trustworthy data requires the right people to perform the work. Hire experienced technicians with a good track record and upskill current workers to operate new equipment to the highest standards.

4. Find cost-effective solutions

Fighting the tide of rising costs in garment testing requires cost-effective solutions. The keyword to keep in mind when searching for solutions is: centralize. Centralizing your garment testing operations allows you to get more from existing resources, leading to greater efficiencies and cost savings.

5. Adopt digital technology

Not only do digitized garment testing operations enable faster reporting of results, but they also offer end-to-end traceability and visibility. With digital tools, you can monitor the entire process, from sourcing to testing and delivery. This allows for more control over the quality, better decision-making, and faster time to market.

With the right strategies in place, garment testing operations can be made more efficient, cost-effective, and reliable. By managing the challenges of garment testing, you can ensure your products meet quality standards, consumer expectations, and safety regulations.

 

Request a Demo
Become a partner
Subscribe to receive our newsletter
Sign Up to the Webinar
Contact Us
Get Your Copy of The State of Supply Chain Report 2024