The value of SATRA consultancy in the retail supply chain
How SATRA uses its expertise to make the most of interpreting specification test results.
The majority of high-street retail chains have footwear testing specifications. They expect footwear suppliers to meet these requirements in order to ensure that the products they sell satisfy their criteria for quality and safety. Such specifications are intended to deliver products that meet customers’ needs and expectations, and are both appropriate and fit for the purpose and conditions of use.
Testing should be appropriate to the product type, and should cover aspects that relate to durability, appearance (for example, colour fastness) and, most importantly, safety aspects – including slip resistance, heel attachment and the absence of hazardous substances.
In order for the final product to be satisfactory, some form of specification is also needed when purchasing materials and components for use in the manufacturing process. Inappropriate materials will affect the final product quality. All too frequently, the terms ‘as previously supplied’ or ‘as agreed with your representative’ are found on purchase orders. Suitable specifications are needed for materials, components or processes, and these should form part of the order.
Footwear technologists need to understand the importance of the specification and the relevance of each test covered. Ultimately, these members of staff need to know how to interpret results when assessing the product against the specification. No specification should be viewed as unmoveable, and used blindly without consideration to its relevance to the particular product and its end-use. Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of using a specification is knowing how to interpret results.
A simple pass/fail criterion is beneficial in that it is easy to understand and is less open to question or doubt as to whether a sample should be accepted or rejected. This type of approach may be workable with many mass-produced components such as machinery parts, where it is immediately clear if the requirement is met or not (for instance, a bolt either has the correct thread for the nut or it does not). However, it is not always straightforward for footwear.
If a retailer does not have access to experienced footwear technologists, a pass/fail approach is prudent. However, with more knowledge, footwear technologists are better able to interpret the results and, therefore, improve their commercial decision-making processes.
Correct interpretation important
Footwear comes in a huge variety of styles, materials and constructions, and no single specification would be suitable for all applications. Actual requirements will depend on a number of factors, including market sector, branding and wearer expectation. In other words, interpretation should be based on the expected end-use and the market for the footwear that is being assessed. For example, when assessing an upper material, it is important to consider in what type of footwear it will be used. For instance, a material should not necessarily be rejected just because it has a low tear resistance – it may perform perfectly adequately in light use (such as for indoor slippers) or it may be reinforced to improve its performance. Another example is breathability. Materials can be graded in terms of how breathable they are. A low value does not necessarily mean that the material cannot be used at all.
In some instances, a style or material may be considered by the company to be vital to the range’s success and brand profile. Therefore, the decision on whether or not to reject a sample which falls below the specification may also be a commercial one – an expected level of returns may be considered to be acceptable from a financial point of view.
Of course, taking a commercial risk is definitely not recommended for safety-related properties. For instance, a heel that does not meet the specification for fatigue resistance presents a potential failure in wear which could result in injury to the wearer. This could result in a product recall, a large claim for injury compensation, brand damage and the possibility of heavy fines for putting dangerous goods onto the market. SATRA has, in the past, been asked if such a test result would be acceptable for high fashion use where the shoe is intended to be worn only on special occasions. The answer is ‘no’, not least because the shoe may well be worn far more frequently than expected.
Furthermore, a testing specification should be a dynamic document, which must be relevant to the current market and reflect what is acceptable from both a commercial and practical view. It should take into account recent commercial experience, testing experience and the development of new materials and manufacturing methods. These factors may, for example, mean that higher standards are required to meet increased customer expectations and requirement levels can be raised. Experience might also indicate that a recommendation lower than previously used is acceptable.
Testing specifications must, therefore be reviewed regularly to ensure that they are relevant, realistic, and cover all relevant aspects of the product. Where changes are needed. These should be put into place and the revision distributed to all those in the supply chain that will be using it.
SATRA has an unrivalled knowledge of footwear and testing which is used to help our members. As well as carrying out testing to a specification, we can add value to our test reports by providing additional advice and comments on the test results. This will ensure that they are relevant and meaningful to the product and the end-user. Both financial and time restraints mean that it is not practical to carry out every single possible test as routine. As a result, specifications do not necessarily cover every eventuality. However, SATRA is able to advise additional tests where we feel a particular style has features which are not covered by the specification.
In addition, a common mistake is to blindly perform all the tests in a specification without considering the individual product. SATRA’s expertise means that often we might also suggest where certain tests are not relevant to a style. This can save valuable time and money by avoiding unnecessary work. An important aspect of SATRA’s work is training, and we have a variety of courses (both standard and bespoke) that retailers can access to train their technologists.
How can we help?
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on carrying out retailer specification testing or training.
This article was originally published on page 48 of the November 2015 issue of SATRA Bulletin.