I first met Mighel Critten many years ago in London while setting up his own tailoring company called Mighel Bespoke. I gave pro-bono advice on the marketing of his brand as I truly believed in this talented entrepreneur. Back then Mighel was managing the entire bespoke tailoring service from sales to fitting, cutting and making. With his production based in London, Miguel worked with two key mills in the UK to secure premium fabrics to compliment his commissioned designs.
Today Mighel is International Quality Assurance Manager at AAK Clothing a ready-to-wear tailoring supplier working with factories across Asia. With little chance of getting face-to-face time with this intergalactic jet setter, we settled for a rather modern means of communication with a Skype interview to find out more about his current role and the quality assurance process in Asia.
Thomas: Hi Miguel, tell me, what are you up to in your current job?
Mighel: I currently manage quality assurance (QA) in factories across four countries in Asia. These include; Bangladesh, Cambodia, China and Vietnam.
In the countries where we have a lot business I manage full-time QA staff based within the factories. In contrast, within countries where there is not constant production my job is a lot more hands on.
My staff and I need to check development samples before the factories send them out. We work with the sampling and technical departments to ensure the customers specifications and designs are understood and followed. At the beginning of the season we hold pre-production meetings with the factories, highlighting any ‘risky’ styles to help them problem solve in advance.
While working with the factories technical staff during production, we ensure styles are being produced correctly and further advise them on the correct, better or more efficient methods of production. We perform unannounced inspections during and after production is complete to make sure the factory has produced our client’s products as requested.
Working in a medium sized company you often wear a few different hats. I also manage and advise factories on ethical compliance, as well as doing sourcing visits and assessing potential new factories.
Thomas: Do you have advice for buyer looking to source from Asia?
Mighel: I fully recommend shopping around and not just within one country. Different countries offer different benefits and also different problems to overcome. If you’re sourcing overseas the most successful relationship with a factory will be one that develops long-term; but it takes time to understand each other’s needs and ways of working. Once you have selected a factory to work with you need to visit them often. By spending as much time as possible on site, especially in the early stages of working together, will help build a good understanding and strong relationship.
Thomas: You must come across the good, the bad and the ugly: what are the key things you look out for within your role?
Mighel: There are a few things to look out for when assessing potential new factories. Staff retention is important, factories with a low turnover of staff and a long-term work force will always be more skilled and when working with tailoring factories this is very important.
Factories with good management and staff structures will function a lot better too. In large factories there can be hundreds of QA and quality control staff. Good management and reporting is vital to ensure consistency in production.
Finally, the machinery in factory's sampling room should mirror the machinery on the factory floor; otherwise you may find you have sealed a sample the factory cannot entirely deliver.
Thomas: My last APLF blog was on communication barriers. Do you have any tips to share?
Mighel: Of course. Good communication is vital to a healthy working relationship and in ensuring factories produces the correct product efficiently. A factory may go into production in good faith thinking they understand a customers requirement, but things are lost in translation. This is why we find face-to-face pre-production meetings are so important. When I first started working in factories in Asia I began to understand just how complex the English language can be; we can say the same thing in 20 different ways.
Staff in one factory spoke no English but I found they understood customers specification written in English by looking at the letters and knowing for example what a "notched lapel with hand stitching" meant without being able to speak the words. Working in the factory day-to-day English is not widely spoken and I'm not naturally adept to learning languages. Picking up some basics goes a long way to gaining respect and co-operation of local staff. When working in different countries you have to gain an understanding of the local ways of working, and be willing to adapt your methods of communication to get the best results.
Thomas:Finally, why does QA pay off as a core part of a business strategy?
Mighel: Tailoring is one of, if not the, most complicated clothing categories to produce. With increased complexity comes a higher margin for failure, and remember no factory is perfect. Things are often misunderstood, without a strong QA policy and team it won't be long before you have the nightmare of receiving goods that are not as you wanted. Investing in a strong QA system will increase time efficiency and reduce wasted goods. For me; it is essential.
Trade shows can offer a great starting point for the initial shop around Mighel referred to earlier. They offer a platform with multiple traders from all over the region under one roof and APLF offer some of the best in Hong Kong. When appointing contractors, Quality Assurance should be an essential factor to build into your overseas sourcing strategy. This will ensure products arrive to specification and will help to mitigate any unnecessary product standards.