Adventures in Auditing

View from Galta Ji, the "Monkey Temple"

Image: The view from Galta Ji, the "Monkey Temple", in Jaipur

We’ve made a ton of key decisions in the past few months. We’ve built a website. We’ve figured out product distribution. We’ve secured a freight forwarder to import our inventory to the U.S. We’ve developed and approved a 4-product launch catalog that turned out really great. We’ve taken beautiful lifestyle and product photos.

By December, our manufacturer was working to produce our full launch order—by far our business’ biggest investment to date!—and load it onto a ship bound for a port halfway around the world.

That meant it was time to schedule our first production audit!

What Does That Actually Mean?

For those who are unfamiliar, a production audit is a typical part of the process for any manufacturing operation. A brand like us will hire an independent third party--or select a small team of their own--to go to the factory as their purchase order is being packed. They'll meet with the factory managers and their account managers, they'll tour the facilities to assess working conditions, they'll discuss opportunities for new products, and they'll inspect their products before shipping.

Masala chai pictured at the first Kaftan Life production audit

Image: This delicious masala chai kept us going during the audit.

Every brand expects something a little different from an audit. Some are sticklers about specific construction measurements, others care more about color consistency and vibrance, and still others care more about packing and presentation. The first production audit is a key step in establishing mutually understood quality and inspection standards between the manufacturer and its customer, the brand. It's also a superb opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the two parties.

If You Want Something Done Right...

Over the summer we began working with THR3EFOLD, a new service for apparel brands and manufacturers seeking sustainable and ethical project partners. We contributed to their launch fundraiser on iFundWomen (an awesome Kickstarter-esque platform for female-led startups), which gave us access to consulting sessions with the THR3EFOLD team.

With some sound advice from Lindy Fox, a fashion production expert we met through THR3EFOLD and all-around force of inspiration in the fashion space, we decided back in August that we shouldn't leave our first production audit up to a third party. Cost be damned, it was important to go ourselves for the sake of our products and strengthening the relationship with our manufacturer.

So one early morning in mid-December, we braved the 4+ hour drive to Dulles, hopped onto a 777 flown by Air India, and flew 14 hours to Delhi. Those that know me know I am hardly shaped for long-distance flights. I credit my survival to ZzzQuil and the episodes of Chill with Bob Ross we had downloaded on Netflix for iPad.

From Delhi, we had a 4 hour layover and a quick hop on a smaller dual-prop plane to Jaipur. We checked into our hotel for a good night's rest, and no more than 36 hours after we had left the U.S., we were on our way to the factory for the audit.

After a warm-hearted meet and greet with our account team, we took a detailed tour of the factory, then jumped into auditing. Our audit was straightforward, but very detailed. Our team of 5 (Virginia and myself from Kaftan Life, our account manager, and two of her team members) locked ourselves in a brightly lit inspection room in the heart of the factory, surrounded by production and review teams hard at work. There, we and our hosts set to work, unpacking box after box of our launch products and reviewing 12 POMs (Points of Measure) and an additional 10 quality points for each unit. All said, we spent about 15 hours in that inspection room over 2 days, reviewing over 700 samples! O.O

By the end, we were exhausted and a little dry-eyed, but grateful for the time and effort the factory's team dedicated to the audit. Our manufacturer was helpful every step of the way, immediately addressing what minor defects we found and volunteering to apply the same audit standards to the rest of the production run. Throughout the audit, both parties showed their commitment to our products, and the result is a launch run that we can both be proud of.

While we were on site, we learned about our partner’s history as a family-run business, and got to meet several of the family members as well as account managers and salespeople with whom we'd been communicating over email for the past 7 months.

Sure, we paid an arm and a leg to be there, but you can't put a price on being able  connect with your business partners IRL, seeing where your clothes are made, and having peace of mind knowing that your biggest investment is exactly what you had envisioned.

All Work and Some Play

And what great hosts our partners were! When they learned that we had an extra day in Jaipur following the audit, they arranged for a driver and a tour guide to take us around the city. We knew that Jaipur was famous for textiles, but we hardly knew the extent. City Palace, one of the grandest of the red and pink sandstone structures predating British colonial rule in India, was as much about Jaipur’s history as a global leader in textile arts, as it was a history of Rajasthan’s royalty. (Sadly, photography was prohibited in the textile exhibits, or I would show you some of the ornate kaftans worn by Rajasthani royalty over the centuries!)

We also visited Jantar Mantar, the royal observatory completed in 1734 that features 19 monolithic marble and stone astronomical instruments, including the world's largest stone sundial.

World's Largest Stone Sundial at Jantar Mantar

Image: Seriously, that is a big sundial.

Finally, we got to see the real dabu process in action. Dabu is a traditional Indian method of textile printing using wooden blocks and vegetable dyes. The dyes react to saltwater to become color-fast. The process is all done by hand, from the carving of the blocks, to the stamping of mutliple single-color blocks to form a pattern or picture, to the rinsing of the material to set the colors. It's this process that inspired the print on our 'Debut Dabu' Long Drawstring Kaftan, so we were thrilled to see it in person!

Dabu Sample Before and After Color Reaction

Image: The real deal dabu process in action, before and after a saltwater dunk to set the colors. I did the elephant! (I did NOT do that beautiful indigo print in the background of the left picture.)

Ship It!

Now that our first production audit is behind us, we almost can't wait for the next one! We're more confident than ever that we selected a great business partner, and look forward to growing our relationship with them over the projects to come.

In the meantime, there's the incredibly exciting, nail-biting task of SHIPPING OUR FIRST PRODUCT LINE TO THE U.S.!

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Startup Stories: Conducting Our First Audit

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