1. Raw materials: The first step in maintaining quality is careful selection of the materials to be used. Materials should be of the same quality as the sample that was sent to the buyer. If the same materials are unavailable or need to be substituted, the buyer must be notified. All materials should also be examined for quality. Wood should be properly dried or final products will crack. Textiles should be checked for color fastness and shrinking. Fittings and fasteners should function properly and withstand use. All materials used should be consistent in quality and color. In general, it is not a good idea to compromise quality for cost by using inexpensive, but poorly made materials. Paying a little more for good quality materials will pay off in the long run by building buyer’s confidence in your products.
2. Production Process: Your order must match the sample approved by the buyer. To assure this, it is essential to maintain counter samples of the sample sent to the buyer. This will avoid confusion of what the buyer is expecting. Production of the order should be compared to the counter sample several times during the production process, not just once the product is finished. Some buyers may request that a production sample (photo or actual product) be sent to them for their approval to assure that matches their specifications before it is shipped. Quality control throughout production can help identify mistakes and correct them before they result in costly errors. Use a thorough quality control check list for monitoring consistency and quality of your production.
3. Training of artisans: Handcrafts are often made in small workshops, and large orders may be filled by a number of different producers. In this case, extra care must be taken to make sure that the final products are all alike and are the same as the sample. Training and good communication with the artisans is essential. Artisans should understand what is involved in producing crafts for export and how to meet quality requirements. All artisans should be trained in how to check for quality issues as they make the products and be provided with a check list of what to look for when monitoring the quality of their production.
4. Working conditions: Good quality is also a factor of the working conditions of the artisans. Working conditions include things like fair wages, proper work areas and equipment, and worker incentives. The price paid to the artisan can impact the quality of production, as does the time they have to fulfill an order. If artisans have to produce a large order in a short amount of time, this could result in quality being compromised. If artisans are paid a low wage, they have little incentive to invest time into making a good quality item. Artisans also need to have access to funds to purchase raw materials of the quality desired. Some artisan organizations have developed a savings and loan program, to lend money to artisans for the purchase of raw materials when they need it. Most fair trade organizations should offer pre-financing when placing an order, to assure that artisans can cover the costs of purchasing materials and producing the products. Finally, good quality production also depends on workshop conditions. Work areas should be kept clean and artisans should have the minimal tools needed. Sometimes something as simple as making sure the artisans have tape measurers can make a big difference.
5. Proper packing: Quality can also be compromised if products are not properly packed for shipping. A product may have been made well, but be damaged during shipping, resulting in losses. Entire boxes of products can arrive damaged because they were packed when still wet, were packed too tightly or without adequate protection. Quality control also includes packing products so that they are protected from damages until they reach the buyer. Proper packing is the responsibility of the producer. For more on packing, see the Packing and Packaging section.
EFFECTIVE QUALITY CONTROL – REVIEW
- Maintain counter sample originals of the same quality sample sent to buyer.
- Check quality control at multiple points throughout production process.
- Use a thorough quality control check list for monitoring consistency and quality of your production.
- Provide check list for all stages of production and make sure all artisans know how to check for quality issues as they make the products.
Here are some quality control problems that occur commonly and some solutions that can help to avoid the problems, or correct them when they exist.
COMMON QUALITY CONTROL PROBLEMS
|1. Availability, suitability, quality of raw materialsa. e.g. improperly seasoned woodb. Dyes which run, fade or are not consistentc. Improper preparation of materials2. Methods of construction
a. trained, skilled artisans?
b. Appropriate tools and technology?
3. Design or engineering
4. Working conditions
5. Climate (mold, bugs, moisture
6. Rushed orders
|1. Training2. Consultation with artisan producers3. Control samplesa. Always make counter samplesb. Supply producers with counter sample
c. Keep sample at quality control. inspection site
4. Institute penalty and bonus system
5. Provide proper work conditions
a. Proper lighting
b. Good ventilation
c. Reasonable work hours with frequent breaks
6. Provide clean, dry storage of raw materials and finished products
|Asha Handicrafts is a non-profit fair trade organization in India that works with dozens of artisan workshops that make a wide range of crafts. They provide regular training for their artisans. Asha felt a quality control workshop was needed to help artisans understand the importance of good quality control. In the workshop, the artisans talked about the quality problems they had experienced, brainstormed possible solutions to resolve those problems, and came up with an action plan to put the solutions into practice. The workshop also included sitting down with each producer to listen to their needs and concerns. The workshop was very successful.|