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Pacific Alliance to monitor color consistency
04
Jul '08
As a supplier of lifestyle apparel brands for retailers, Pacific Alliance USA Inc. keeps a sharp watch on color consistency.

Pacific Alliance designs and supplies brands such as Daisy Fuentes for Kohl's, Metro 7 for Wal-Mart and Gloria Vanderbilt for several retailers, each brand including a selection of daytime, evening and career apparel that shoppers can mix and match to create multiple outfits.

Not only do all the red sweaters on the rack have to match one another, they also have to look right with the red-and-black print shirt.

"Shoppers have to have a comfort level that if they pick out separates, they will relate back to each other," explains Sheila Stoothoff, the company's director of quality assurance.

Color consistency also draws shoppers to the brand. "Our ultimate goal is to ensure that there's color consistency on the sales floor," Stoothoff says. "The color is what catches the eye of the customer in the store, so we want to make sure there's a nice, cohesive line on the sales floor."

Monitoring color for consistency:
But guaranteeing consistency is no simple task for a company that buys fabric from multiple mills and manufactures apparel in multiple factories around the world. In order to achieve color consistency, Pacific Alliance adheres to a strict protocol.

Each season, the company's design team sets color standards in collaboration with the merchandising team. The sales staff discusses the proposed standards with the retailers' buyers and reaches agreement on a final color line that is right for the product.

Once the color standards for a particular style have been finalized, the design team sends swatches to the quality assurance department, which analyzes the swatches with a spectrophotometer and creates QTX files - electronic representations of the color - that it can send to mills and suppliers.

The mills create lab dips, mixing the dyes and using their own spectrophotometers to determine whether their swatches match Pacific Alliance's QTX file. When they produce a color within the allowable tolerance levels, the mills send physical swatches and spectrophotometer readings to Pacific Alliance.

The quality assurance department examines the lab-dip swatches with its spectrophotometer and with light boxes, which simulate several different indoor and outdoor lighting conditions.

The light box evaluation ensures that the products will look their best in the retailer's store and that an outfit that matches in the store or at home will continue to match when the wearer goes outdoors. Based on all of these tests, quality assurance decides whether the mill can go ahead and dye the fabric.

The process doesn't end there. After approving the lab dip, the quality assurance department requests cuttings from every dye lot, which it reviews and compares to the approved lab dip, the original standard and any other approved samples.Continuing the process throughout the life of the style results in consistency of color on the sales floor.

The quest for a centralized system:
Until a few years ago, Pacific Alliance managed this process with spreadsheets created in-house. "Quality assurance had its own spreadsheets, production had a different set, and the factory probably had another set," Stoothoff says. "There was a lot of duplication of workload.

It was a lot of information to manage manually, so there was a lot more possibility for error. And there were always back-and-forth questions about who had approved what. It wasn't the easiest way to work!"

Understanding that a centralized system could help minimize delays and errors, the company began searching for a solution that would allow all participants to view and enter information.

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