In today's competitive business of apparel export, characterisation of quality is an important and indispensable aspect. Global standards in apparel are driven, benchmarked by the major buyers and ultimately product-oriented. Tolerances in the degree of product proficiency cannot be ignored since too slack standards may allow excessively inferior merchandise to pass through, whilst, standard which are too rigid may result in acceptable merchandise being unnecessarily rejected. Thus, quality evaluation of garments as per international standard norms is essential for export. This is not only to ensure a quality product but also to endorse the product safety, prevent recalls, reduce returns, minimise customer complaints and promote repeat sales. It is well known that testing protocols are the summaries of applicable requirements which cover all facets of performance, evaluating safety and quality as well as labelled claims. Due to ever increasing fashion trend, different fibre, construction, style, colour and finish dominate the apparel world to cater the requirements of various categories of customers. But, unfortunately, no single universal characterization protocol is available in the garment trade. Testing protocol changes depending on the fibre and fabric type, weight, style, finish, accessories, country of export and, above all, the intended end use of the product. It is also vital to bear in mind that all standards and regulations encapsulated in the protocol have one or both of the following aims: safety and quality. While related more to general consumer satisfaction, safety is an important concern as products not meeting regulations can jeopardise the health of the purchaser. Thus, characterisation of apparels which are earmarked for export is essential to satisfy both regulation and requirement.

Testing Protocols For Apparel And Related Accessories

Development of a test method depends on simplicity, reproducibility, applicability, cost to perform and time required. The protocol in an apparel testing is a summary of requirements performance, safety, quality and labelled claims. Different parameters are involved in the sub-division of different test protocols. Merchandise category governs such type of characterisation. While some properties are common for different protocols, additional inputs are essential to properly designate the character of apparel. Requirements of different characters vary depending upon the country wherein export is designated. The matrix of different protocols for apparel and accessories is discussed below.

Essential elements in Protocols

Label Verification:

- Country of origin     - Fibre content

- Care Labelling        - Registration (RN) number

- Size                      - Copyright verification

- Stuffed articles label (Canada)

Identification tests:

- Fibre analysis        - Yarn size

- Fabric count          - Fabric weight

- Fabric construction


- Dimensional stability

- Appearance in laundering (includes: self-staining, torque, skew, trim/seam durability, trim/garment compatibility, puckering, raspy hand, pill/fuzz etc.)


Strength and performance tests:

- Tensile (woven)        - Tear (woven)

- Bursting (knit)          - Seam strength/stretchability

- Pocket strength       - Snap/zipper strength

- Stretch and recovery for elastic item

- Pilling                     - Pile retention (corduroy)

Colourfastness tests:

- Laundering/drycleaning    - Chlorine bleach

- Non-chlorine bleach        - Crocking

- Light                             - Perspiration (Lining or skin contact)

- Water                           - Ozone and burnt gas fume (Indigo and white)

Other required tests:

- Flammability                 - pH (washed items)

- Azo colourants (European requirement)

Additional test for technical outerwear / rainwear

- Water repellency          - Water resistance

- Coating verification        - Breathability

Additional test for infant garment

- Heavy metal/lead content on surface paints / coating

- Formaldehyde content

- Colour fastness to saliva (under 36 months)

- Children safety construction review (includes: small parts, sharp object, drawstring etc.)

Additional test for intimate and sleepwear

- Flammability 16 CFR 1615/1616 (children sleepwear)

- Yarn slippage - Colour fastness to perspiration

- Stretch and recovery for elastic band

Additional test for sweaters

- Garment weight - Neck stretch

Additional test for swimwear

- Colour fastness to seawater, water, chlorinated pool water

Additional test for down fill product

- Air permeability                  - Down proofness

- Down / feather labelling requirement

- Fill power                           - Turbidity

- Oxygen number

Additional test for wrinkle-resistant garment

- Formaldehyde content       - Flex abrasion

- Durable press rating


Protocols For Zippers, Buttons, And Snaps Testing

General properties

- Heavy metals (painted surface: Europe and Germany)

- Lead content (all surface coating)

- Nickel leaching (skin contact only)

- Formaldehyde (zipper, button: children under three years)

Visual testing

- Manufacturing qualities (zipper, snap)

Strength / durability properties

- Appearance after laundering / drycleaning

- Zipper strength                                   - Button and snap strength

- Resistance to corrosion (metal only)    - Impact resistance (button)

- Center strength (button)                      - Ligne size (button)

- Thickness (button)

Discussion on Important Quality requirements

Major markets in the apparel trade can be broadly classified under two groups i.e. US based and non US based. However, the requirements may or may not vary accordingly. General testing requirements of fibre and care labelling in the apparel export market is well defined. In case of fibre labelling, no tolerances exist for products made wholly of one fibre. Such product should be labelled as "100%" or All. But there is a 3% tolerance, by weight, for products composed of more one fibre. In care labelling, dimensional stability in both washing and dry cleaning are important. The shrinkage requirement limit varies from - 3% to 4% and + 3% for warp as well as weft in woven goods and whereas permitted variation in knitted goods is 5% both in course and wales direction as depicted in Figure 1.

Similarly, in dry cleaning, tolerance in woven products varies from 2% to 2.5% for warp and weft and 2.5% to 3% for knits in course and wales direction. Spirality is nothing but twisting of fabric in a garment after laundering. Interchangeably this term is used as torque or skewness. The origin of spirality is from fibre, yarn and fabric construction. Molecules in the fibre tend to go back to the way it was grown or made when distorted. This is called "memory effect" and is predominant in the occurrence of spirality. This phenomenon is crucial in the apparel market for knitted goods. In general. the requirement standard of spirality is 5% irrespective of any market as shown in Figure 3. Apart from dimensional stability, colour fastness to washing and dry cleaning as well as chlorine and non-chlorine bleach are important parameters to verify or establish care label. Non-chlorine bleach test requirement as rating four is only employed for US care labelling recommendation. For all the above cases, the rating varies from three to four in general. Garment appearance after washing and dry cleaning is visually judged for shape distortion and colour change in garment trade. Wash and wear test is applicable on the durable press garment which is accepted as 3.5 g for apparels destined to any major market.

According to the general testing requirements of flammability for major apparel markets, wearing apparel before export to the USA must meet the requirements as mandated by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission i.e. 16 CFR 1610. Under this Code of Federal Regulation, fabric must meet Class 1-normal flammability requirement standard with no unusual burning characteristics. In case of Canada and Sweden, time of flame spread in the apparel varies from 3.5 sec to 5 sec depending on the fabric characteristics. The code of regulations established for childrens sleepwear is more stringent than general wearing apparel. In case of USA zone, the general requirements as mandated by the United States Consumer product Safety Commission (16 CFR 1615/1616) are to be satisfied. However, performance requirement for the export to Australia is regulated by a different standard i.e. AS 1249: 1990. In case of nightwear, no special regulation is there for US based market except 16 CFR 1615/1616. But for the UK market, The Nightwear (Safety) Regulations 1985 is applicable for baby garments, children's and adult nightwear.


Major source of customer complaint in apparel market generates from colour fastness of textile products. The fastness of a colour is dependent on the type of dye, depth of shade, colour and process parameters in dyeing. Dyes react differently when in contact with different agents, for instance dyes which may be fast to dry cleaning may not be fast to rubbing or water or perspiration. Keeping such events in view, evaluation of fastness of colours on dyed and printed textile products are mandatory requirement in export. There are a number of factors that the coloured items may encounter during their lifetime which can cause the colour either to fade or to bleed onto an adjacent white or light coloured item. For all practical purposes, the effect of light, washing, dry cleaning, water, perspiration, rubbing/crocking, sea water and chlorinated water cannot be overlooked. A generic trend of colour fastness properties for apparels is indicated in Figure 8 and Figure 9. In case of colour transfer from the surface of coloured textile material to other surfaces by rubbing/crocking, the desired dry and wet staining are 4 and 3, respectively for apparel markets in the globe. But for perspiration and water fastness, rating level varies from 3 to 3-4 in colour staining to the multifiber strips with regard to US and non-US based markets, respectively. However, rating of colour change in major apparel markets remain at 4 in perspiration and water fastness. Colour fastness to chlorinated water and sea water are important for swimwear and beachwear. In both the cases, rating is 4 as far as the colour change is concerned for both US and non-US based market. But requirement of staining on multifibre is slightly relaxed in non-US market i.e. 3-4 with reference to 3 as desired in US based market. Colour fastness to light is an important parameter to decide the quality of garment when exposed to different forms of light. Accepted rating of Lining / underwear is normally 4 in US based market but a more relaxed rating i.e. 3 is acceptable to the non-US segment which is presented in Figure 10. While outerwear is normally accepted at the rating 4 irrespective of any segment of major apparel market, requirement rating differs in swimwear category in which grade 4 and 5 are considered as acceptable to the US based and non-US based market, respectively.

The performance of any kind of apparel can be characterised through various physical parameters. The reasons for performing such tests are many but in apparel testing it is to obtain some indication of probable performance in use. Interaction of fibre, yarn and fabric properties is important in such evaluation. In the apparel industry, normally performance tests are based on tensile, tear, bursting and seam properties. The tear strength of a fabric depends on various factors. Controversial issues are often heard on this property during selection of fabrics in apparel export. Some of the important points which are important but not limited to the following facts such as: higher the value of single thread strength, higher is the tear strength; plied yarn gives higher tear strength than single yarn; twill weave gives higher tear strength than plain weave since twill weave has higher float which gives more grouping of the threads; and high set fabric preclude thread movement, therefore the assistance by thread grouping is greatly reduced. In garment industry, stitching of different areas of a product is a key character to determine the quality. The efficiency of which depends on strength, elasticity, durability, security and appearance of the constructed seam balanced with the properties of the material to be joined. Seam strength/slippage has been considered as extensively used parameter in the apparel trade for acceptance testing of a product manufactured under a particular international brand. Tensile and bursting strength properties are more frequently used parameters to characterise an apparel to predict the useful life in wearing. Due to the nature of test, the former is used for woven and the later one is applicable for knitted goods. General requirement level of performance tests in major apparel markets is same though the unit of expression is different in the US and non-US based market for different merchandise products. A typical presentation can be viewed in Figure 4, Figure 5 and Figure 6, respectively for tensile, tear and seam strength. But in case of bursting strength, benchmark is slightly higher in US based apparel market on similar converted unit of measurement which has been referred in Figure 7. However, the requirement levels vary depending on the product category irrespective of export to US or non-US based market.

Concluding Remarks

The demand on the properties, appearance, and durability of materials and components in the apparel sector has increased significantly in recent years. Simultaneously, increasing competition has forced the industry to progressively reduce costs of end product. In order to meet these changing requirements, and to provide an objective framework for what is acceptable in export to different destinations, quality characterisation of apparels has continuously been attracted attention. It is definitely essential in the perspective of ensuring the right quality, confidence of wearing and protecting the health and safety aspects.



Originally published in Apparel Views, February 2008.




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