By  on May 19, 1994

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tom Mason, president of Virginia Apparel Corp., a Rocky Mount, Va., manufacturer of men's and women's bottoms, says a total quality management (TQM) program is helping to turn his company around.

Mason outlined the program at the American Apparel Contractors Association Meeting here last month.

Despite a rocky beginning last August when many key employees resisted the program, Mason said Virginia Apparel has made remarkable progress. He said in-line repairs have been reduced by 35 percent from August to March (or down 30 percent as an eight-month average); manufacturing defects are down 65 percent (or a monthly average of 30 percent); fabric defects are down 20 percent; and laundry defects were cut in half over the same seven-month period.

"Contractors always are looking for some way to increase their productivity, to decrease costs and to get a competitive edge over the [companies that operate] south of the border," Mason said. "This has worked and worked well, but it has been hard."

TQM, he explained, focuses on efficient manufacturing processes. Improvements in the bottom line follow. Everyone in the company is given the statistical tools to diagnose opportunities for improvement and urged to voice those opportunities. TQM also recognizes employees as the primary component of error prevention, rather than a cost, he said.

At the same conference, Dick Yardley, director of technical services at the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, discussed the Electronic Catalog developed by the association's Associate Member Congress and Clemson Apparel Research. He said the catalog is a frequently updated electronic database of goods and services for the apparel industry.

It has three distinct uses for the apparel manufacturer, he continued: a pre-Bobbin Show planning guide, a product locator for the Bobbin Show and a reference throughout the year. It lists product information, including benefits and applications, as well as the vendor's name, telephone and fax numbers, location at the Bobbin Show and the key contact person.

Companies can either purchase the catalog on disk or access it through the Apparel Management Information System (AMIS), an electronic bulletin board housed at Clemson. The catalog, which costs $35, will be distributed at the Bobbin Show this year, but will be available to AAMA members four weeks before.Yardley said that the AAMA and Clemson are the first to produce such a catalog. "It is novel for the apparel industry to come out with anything like this," he said. It is "tailor-made for the small and medium-sized enterprise."

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