There’s no doubt that 2020 and the pandemic have made us think differently both in business and personally. In business, we have had to adjust and make a plan in order to stay afloat and to be able to give customers what they want. One of the most challenging areas for me was in sourcing fabrics locally. I have always tried to support local, and I have a number of suppliers who I trust and who supply me with reliable, quality fabric at reasonable prices. However, a lot of my specialized fabrics are imported. We still print locally and we manufacture most of our pyjamas locally, but there are certain specialty fabrics that are simply not available here and no wholesalers who are interested in bringing them in.
So the pandemic threw me a bit of a curveball as I had to find alternative fabrics to serve the purposes I needed. Now most new fabrics to our business are made up in sample form first and then I usually take them home and wash and wear them to check softness and durability. But the lack of availability in the market meant that when I found something decent, I had to purchase first and hope it worked out. And the factories who had been starved of work throughout the lockdown became inundated with work making masks for the nation and for those businesses that could open, so there was no time to test as we would normally do.
The textile industry is interesting and although we, as a small business can get goods to market on a fairly quick turnaround, usually we work 6 to 9 months ahead of the season to design, plan and get the product we want. Lockdown changed all of that and given that most global borders were closed, and the shipping lines that were working were stuck, as the ports worldwide worked on 30% staff or less, all our winter fabric stock was nowhere to be seen. Added to this, we started with 2 new factories in an effort to get the product into store.
And so we come to the mistakes we made. One of the most important things for any business is to know that you have made a mistake. But like a restaurant who is never told about an off meal, in textiles, if we do not know that a customer has an issue with a faulty product, we can’t fix the source of the fault and we go on blissfully unaware.
And so it was that we had a faulty garment, which luckily, we were told about and could do something about it quickly and remove the offending stock off the floor for testing and discarding.
There is so much that goes into making even the smallest item of clothing. From the type of fabric, to the type of needle used to sew the fabric, to the density of the stitch and the experience of the machinist, the accessories, and the type of thread that is used. The issues we had in our quality control were endless from breaking buttons to wrong stitch density and yes to faulty fabric as well. But as with everything, lessons were learnt by all of us.
One of the most important aspects of dealing with faulty garments, is the customer experience. The problem in textiles is that you can very quickly get a reputation for poor quality if you don’t rectify quickly. So I am always grateful for the people who come in and show us there is a problem so that we are able to fix it. We do try our very best to make the best quality garment we can, and products that will last and be enjoyed for years but sometimes unforeseen errors occur and we just need to take it on the nose. It doesn’t happen often, and I feel terrible for the customer when it does, but we always try to make the best of a bad situation and we always replace or repair immediately.
I learnt many years ago, that one unhappy customer tells up to 100 people, but one happy customer only tells up to 5. But despite this, that is not what motivates me to fix a problem. It is sincerely the need to right a wrong and make a customer love our product as much as we do.
As more challenges lie ahead whilst we navigate the COVID-19 storm, I implore everyone who has any negative experience with any business but especially a small owner run business, to let them know first before bad mouthing them or their quality. Give a business the chance to change your perception. The problem only really lies in how you handle it, not in the problem itself as we found this week when a customer came in and we replaced the faulty garment immediately for her.
Remember – a small business can only survive a faulty garment or product, if they know that it is faulty.