Globalization Puts Greater Emphasis on Grading Textiles

Eric Frederick |

The global marketplace has made quality control a more difficult item to manage.
During the past six months, raw-material costs have gone up more quickly than expected and some foreign manufacturers have cheapened their products in an effort to improve the bottom line. Many of these changes don’t become readily apparent until the product is washed and put into service.
I’ve recently seen imported terry products that are supposed to be bleached white come in with a distinctive gray color. I suspect it’s caused by the presence of lower-grade cotton and a deliberate attempt to lower manufacturing costs.
I’ve seen thermal spreads that are 98 inches in length when brand-new decrease in size to just 80 inches after only 15 washings. Such changes in established products often catch the end-user by surprise.
Poor quality at purchase is most often caused by inadequate specifications or by the failure to check and ensure that what we wanted is what we purchased. Price too often becomes the primary concern, and the vendor or the facility ends up paying too much for the quality received.
Accurate specifications are the first step in making sure that everyone obtains the linen items they want.
The second, more-important step is to inspect the linen items when they arrive to make sure they meet or exceed the purchase specifications.
Some textile suppliers actually have their personnel inspect products where they are manufactured, while others rely on the foreign mills to deliver what is specified.
Failure to ship the desired product, whether the initial shipment is returned or not, should be grounds to stop purchasing the item. We can’t expect compliance if we don’t actively enforce it!
Some quality problems can be subtle and hard to detect during inspection. The case of the “incredible shrinking blanket” is a perfect example. On the surface, the blanket appears to meet all required specifications. There are no visual clues indicating potential problems. I suspect that the root cause is using less-expensive polyester material that isn’t heat-set to handle the 180-degree washing found in healthcare laundries. The blankets would probably perform well on the retail market.
These quality problems shouldn’t surprise anyone in the industry. We are now in a truly global textile market. Making linen for a global marketplace that has a wide variety of expectations is challenging. The farther that a mill or cut-and-sew operation is removed from the end-user, the more likely there will be differences in quality expectations.
The globalization of the textile industry has increased the need for laundry managers to be educated in the construction and design of fabrics. Managers must be able to review textile products in their facility and spot potential problems that are the result of poor construction, design or manufacturing.
The age of treating textiles as a simple commodity market is rapidly slipping away.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at


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