Evaluating the quality of your shirts.


Just by reading the title of this month’s article, you may have already formulated a firm opinion as to where you fit in.  I have clients that have done this well before I ever meet them.  They usually have a number.  That is, they have rated the shirts that come out of their plants on a scale of one to ten.  Many of them are actually quite conservative with their evaluations.  That is a whole lot better than those that claim to produce a perfect shirt.  It isn’t likely that anyone can maintain perfection in this business.  If you, at times produce a “perfect” shirt, do not use that as your “poster child.”  Doing so is the equivalent of wearing blinders.  A manager’s job is to look for trouble, find it before a customer does and fix it before it before it becomes a customer service issue.  The better your operation, the harder it will be to find problems.  Look for quality issues and call them “opportunities” rather than problems.  They are truly opportunities.  Opportunities to exercise your management skills.  Opportunities to improve your business.  Someone much smarter than me once said;  “Many of us shy away from opportunities because they are often dressed in overalls and look too much like work.”  Get over it.


I’ll bet every one of you evaluates your quality.  And you probably do it a few times a week.  Maybe everyday.  As a result you probably have, in your mind as you read this, a number from 1 to 10.  You may be saying, “My shirts are a 7.”  Most people say 7.  My mission this month is to get you to lower that number (sorry), with the hopes that you will work at the issues that you find and fix them.  Ideally, you will lower your rating to a 6 within a couple of days and then raise it to an 8 within a week or two.  In order to do that, I will need to show you a few new ways to check out your quality.


The typical ways to evaluate quality are ok, but not fool proof.  Many of you evaluate the quality of the shirts that you process by simply checking out the shirts that are your own personal shirts.  If, time and again, you put on a shirt in the morning and it is acceptable, or perhaps even perfect, you settle for that as your rating.  Not a fair evaluation, I’m afraid.  If you are a typical size, like 15 or 16 and wear poly-cotton blend oxfords, you are not fairly evaluating your shirts.  No offense, but anybody can do a great job on those.  Secondly, it is remarkably difficult to inspect a shirt while you nonchalantly take it off the hanger and put it on.  My business is shirts and I have found myself wearing a shirt with a gross horizontal crease across the back.  How gross is that?  It is true that if you find a missing button on one of your own shirts, you can assume that others, too, have been missed.  But you won’t assume that every other shirt has a missing button.  If you are about to wear a shirt that has a gross horizontal crease across the back, you will not assume that every other shirt has one.  So, given that, if your shirt is perfect do not make the mistake of assuming that every other shirt is perfect.  Agree?  Just for fun, though, when you send your own personal clothes through the plant, use an alias on the invoice.  This will help prevent someone doing an extra-special job because they know that it’s the boss’ clothes.


The least effective way to analyze quality is to watch a presser press.  If they are bound to do something inappropriate, it is least likely to happen when you’re watching.  Find a spot in your plant where you can see a particular machine.  Let’s say the sleeve press.  Ideally, from there you can see your presser, but your presser can’t see you.  If you suspect that this presser is, for example, hitting the stop button on the machine and thereby, not allowing the shirts to fully dry, he or she probably won’t do it while you’re watching, but you may catch it if they don’t know that you are.  That is about all that you can accomplish as an eye witness.


So, then, what is a better way?


The grossest thing that can happen to a pressed shirt is that it wasn’t allowed to fully dry.  In order to produce a top quality shirt it must be completely dry.  That doesn’t mean 99% dry or 97% dry or pretty close to dry.  It means fully dry.  If you attempt to evaluate this at the plant, you will not succeed.  When a shirt comes off the press, it will not feel damp because it is hot.  Furthermore, if there are damp areas, they may not be evident until later.  Here’s why:  Let’s say that for whatever reason, you’re body press isn’t fully drying the shirts.  It could be that you’re pads are spent or that you’re equipment is defective or that your presser is shortening the cycle.  The part of the shirt that is most likely to be damp is the button-hole band.  But at first glance, it will appear perfectly dry, always.  This is because the front surface of this thick band was, seconds ago, squeezed up against a very hot piece of steel.  The surface dried by conduction.  It’s going to be dry, at least for now, but if there is significant moisture on the back side of the button-hole band, the front side will act like a wick.  It will soften and even wrinkle with time as the remaining moisture is absorbed into the shirt.  This shirt can easily get by your inspector because it will still look fine then.  Sometime later, however, it just may be an embarrassment to you.  The best way to catch this is to look at a friend’s shirt.  Invite him to dinner.  Look at his shirt during that time.  You will see your product in a completely different perspective.  You will see the cuffs, the collar, the sleeves, the front and the back of the shirt.  How do you stack up now?  Another way to do this and to get a bigger sampling is to go to your plant on a day that you’re closed, maybe a Sunday.  There won’t be any distractions.  Look at shirts that are already bagged and ready to be picked up.  Look at all sizes of shirts.  Promise not to be disappointed.  Remember that this is an opportunity to improve your business.  Also promise not to come in to work in a bad mood on Monday.


The biggest cause of occasional inferior work is doing too good of a job most of the time.  Huh?  I bet you read that sentence twice.  I did a work-flow engineering job recently where the pressers did a remarkable job of pressing shirts.  The shirts came off the presses quickly and as close to perfect as I’ve seen.  There where very few touch-ups required.  After I had spent a few days there, the owner asked me to rate his shirts on a scale of 1 to 10.  I said a 7.  Seven?  The shirts were generally perfect.  The reason that I scored him that low (and I don’t think that 7 is bad at all), is because the inspectors were so used to seeing shirts that didn’t need touch-up that their job had become too, ah…mechanical.  Shirt after shirt after shirt was excellent.  When a really bad one came along, it was missed.  The inspectors had begun to assume perfection.  Assume.  Don’t you just hate that word?  Surely the remedy is not to do a poorer shirt right off the presses.  The remedy is supervise, supervise, supervise.  Don’t expect what you don’t inspect.