In this article i will cover everyday fashion shoes for women, reporting on the many types of suppliers in Mainland China, which started as an innocent visit with the brand owner (buyer) to the showroom to meet with the merchandisers, inspection staff, management, and owners (supplier) to discuss past, present, and future business.

During lunch, we discussed product issues, the next shipment, and decided it would be best if we went to the factory to inspect the shipment.    The inspection drove me/us on a extended day (14 hours) to visit the factories, to explore the who, why, where, when, what, and how of the product process that sets the tone for the quality of the products that will ultimately be worn by consumers around the world.

On this journey to the factories I wanted to look at the products on the factory floor, the equipment, the workforce, the infrastructure, layout, the systems, the processes, the policies, procedures or lack thereof.  My objective was to determine the feasibility of the chosen factories for the product types and understand their capabilities for future product placement and allocation.

A shocking fact and reality is that many of the customers who visit this agent in Zhejiang, China for womens fashion shoes, never it make it to the factory floor, they travel 8 – 16 hours by economy, business or first class by airplane for a surface visit to the showroom to discuss business.  There journey will usually take them only to see the showroom, a fancy hotel, dinners, and entertainment, so this is where we start our journey.

The Showroom

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This is where buyers/designers/developers and owners come to look at the hundreds of shoes on display, look for features they want on the current and future shoe collection.

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As we narrow down the selection we pick a few styles that suit our consumers needs.

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Just in case their is someone who likes edgy or fancy designer (Manolo Blahnik) at a price, there is always an option.

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Then there is always the famous White flat ballerina shoe which is a great essential for spring and weekend getaways.

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As this is about the customer experience and satisfaction, I will not settle for the fancy showroom, hotels, restaurants, and entertainment. I will push the boundaries and limits by being proactive and possibly disruptive by auditing frequently, staying connected to the details, challenging the everyday, being accountable, and responsible to ensure the right quality, and highest standard are upheld in a timely manner.

Product Inspection

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The first stop was a warehouse on the side of the road in the middle of a small village in Mainland China, where products were already packed up and ready to ship to the customer (buyer) in North America, Europe, and the UK.  I decided it would be best to select boxes in different colours and start opening up to inspect for quality assurance.

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I was startled by the uneven sole of the shoe, it looked like something had been placed in the bottom of the shoe.  The customer (buyer) I was with is into hands off management, so he really did not seem to care as the shoe retail price is USD $10, and he sells tens a millions a year as is.   So I continued on the inspection.

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I discovered flaws on the bottom of the shoes, where the material had started peeling back, but again the buyer did not seem to care.

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On another shoe I noticed wrinkles or excess fabric on the shoe, that also didn’t seem to phase the buyer.

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So I continued with my inspection and found scuffs, scratches and dirt on the shoes, but that didn’t seem to phase the buyer.

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Finally I decided to inspect the strength of the Glue on the bottom of the shoe by doing a pull test, and discovered the bottom of the shoe would come apart easily.  But still this do not convince the buyer of the importance of quality as this is a retail USD $10 shoe.

quality over low price

Obviously I would make this a priority, as I believe in quality always before price. Improving the quality would make more happier buyers (customer satisfaction), who would promote to others, and come back (customer experience) for more shoes, which in turn would increase sales (revenue), and reduce costs (savings) by reducing quality issues and by being present in the country of manufacturing you would secure better makers, a better selection of products, new developments, (business intelligence) and reduce costs.

As I was in shock and awe with the above inspection, I requested to go the factories responsible for the shoe production.   My first stop is an underground shoe maker, I was surprised that the operation was in business and making for well known brands.

Factory One

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There small and cramped sewing room in a remote area of Zhejiang, doesn’t look so organized and efficient but works well for their culture and area of business.

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They used baskets for their work in progress, and passed around the the next stage.  It looks orderly.  These baskets go to the final stages of tagging and packaging.

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The finishing area, the ladies looked shocked to see a foreigner here, that is a warning sign that not many foreigners visit this production facility.

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There storage room was less than desirable, I don’t believe you can manage anything in this room.  In China sometimes it is best to manage through chaos which is only understood by a rare few within the company.   So anyone looking from the outside well not have a clear picture and understanding.

Factory two

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The next factory was bigger and a little bit more organized.  Lots of everything around and on the cutting table.

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The sewing floor of this factory was substantially bigger than the first one, the method for product flow was similar, but the quality is much better on the production floor.

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After they apply the fabric to the shoe mold, it moves to the stage of placing the sole on the shoe.

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Fastening the sole to the shoe before it is put into the dryer to cure the glue.

At this factory they were also making winter boots, similar to UGGs, below they are sewing the shoe.

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After sewing the shoes they will be placed into a basket for the next process.

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The finished shoe.

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Now back to the ballerina flats and some of the finished products from that day.

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A White die-cut fashion ballerina shoe with a silver Toe.

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A tapestry influenced ballerina shoe.

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A men’s influenced flat shoe.

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Colorful summer flats…

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Nautical Ballerina Flats

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Sparkly Silver Kids ballerina shoes.

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There stock room was larger and a bit more organized than the first factory but still a mess and would be hard to manage for larger production runs.

Factory Three

As usually the supplier (agent) will save the best for last, so this factory was largest in size, efficiency, and organization.  Possibly this was due to my complaints at factory one and two.

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Once inside they had a great storage room for the bulk fabrics before being expited to the cutting room floor.

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The sample fabric room, was full and semi organized.

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From the sample and stock room all shoes will need to be sent to the cutting room, where multiple shoes are die-cut based on design and size.

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Then to the sewing floor to be pieced together.

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The last factory was the best factory for size, organization, and efficiency with better lightening around the sewing equipment.

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The WIP from the sewing floor,

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How many thousands of shoes are waiting for the next stage.

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The uber cool inspection and detail room, which had florescent and individual hanging lights for workers to inspect, inject, and prepare the shoes for the sole.

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Applying the soles to the shoes before the dryer.

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Applying the Glue to the shoe, the sole and running it through the dryer before applying the sole to the shoe.  Out of the three factories this was the only one doing this added stage.

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The inspection table that didn’t have any lights.  Lets hope that they are put in place before the next inspection.  Is that perception or deception?  What really happens when you are not at the factory?

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The finished shoes, which I will cover on the buyer section.

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Beyond the flats to comfy shoes for everyday living

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The Buyers

I am amazed of the types of companies I discover who are doing business with all these different makers.  All the buyers listed below had the above brands being made at the factories and were on the factory floor at the time of this report.

Does the ultimate buyer really care who, where, when, and how their products are made? Is the buyer engaged throughout the process or do they hire a trusted (not an agent) and experienced western person (locals look after locals, what would you do in your country, now imagine what they would do in a 3rd world developing country) to oversee your products, ensuring quality and delivery is upheld, who actually has a presence in that country to educate, train, ensuring ethical and compliant matters are upheld.

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Walmart, ballerina flats prices range from $9.87 to $13.99

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Amazon, ballerina flats prices range from $9.99 to $13.99

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Sears, ballerina flats prices range from $8.99 to $13.99

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Primark, ballerina flats prices range from £4.00 – £6.00 (USD $5.16 – 7.74)

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Woolworth, ballerina flats prices range from Rand (ZAR) 250 – 899 (USD $17 – $61)

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DSW, Brand name ballerina flats prices range from $24.95 to $49.95, I did not see any of the above brands in these factories, but attached for price comparison.

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Overstock, kids ballerina flats, $24.99, I did not the above brand in these factories, but attached for price comparison.

Conclusion

If I was managing the business for the above brands, I know for a fact I could save them headaches, heartaches, millions in cash, well making many more millions in revenue.

There must be something that drives them (the buyers) into a repetitive pattern of chaos and destruction instead of a choice of happiness and profits.  Maybe they are happy at the place of factory one over factory three?

If you are one of the above brands or a brand that would like these products in your offerings, that wants control of:

  • Quality
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Customer Experience
  • Better Product Selection
  • New Developments
  • Reduce Costs
  • Increased Revenues

Please let me know, as this is what I do everyday out of a mad passion for the products and people involved.

Stay amazing and be engaged throughout your product processes for the consumers!!!