Editor's note: In our new "5 Minutes With..." blog series, we talk to some of the individuals involved the process of bringing our products to life. They're all experts in their respective fields, and we thought you might enjoy reading some of the insights they have to share.
Leonardo lives near Florence and conducts on-site inspections at Linjer's tanneries, mills and factories in the area. He has decades of experience working in quality assurance for luxury brands, and has some crazy stories to show for it.
We asked Leo about what his work entails, the biggest quality control disasters he's seen, and about all-too-common deception in Italian manufacturing.
Leo, how did you get into this line of work?
I’ve been involved in the quality inspection business for 24 years. I started out working for a premium brand that wanted to reduce the number of defect claims from their customers. They were losing a lot of money from it.
What kinds of products do you inspect?
I usually inspect products made with leather: bags, small leather goods like belts and gloves, leather garments, shoes, and office accessories. These inspections usually involve checking the raw materials as well.
I’ve also inspected fabric garments, jewellery, and corporate gifts.
Linjer Soft Totes ready to be inspected
Walk us through a typical inspection.
Every brand has a different process and different requirements. You start by understanding the brand’s quality standards.
Generally, the inspections begin with checking the raw materials.
For leather goods, you have to select leather from only the top-tier skins, and inspect the hardware according to the specifications for different types of metals and finishes.
During production, we may do in-line inspection to make sure that the factory is following the brand’s guidelines; for example, checking that the leather selected for the panels of a bag is free of defects.
After production, we inspect the finished goods to confirm the correct manufacturing process was followed and that the resulting products meet the predetermined quality standards.
What are common problems that you look for?
In general, all brands both big and small have golden rules to folĺow for common elements like stitching, inking, logos, etc. For a more stringent inspection, we must also check the functionality of zippers, buttons, and locks.
Do you check every single item coming off the production line?
It depends on the brand’s risk tolerance level. Some brands, like Linjer, require 100% inspection, while others use an AQL (Acceptable Quality Limit) system—randomly inspecting a percentage of units in a production batch, usually 20% to 30%. Both methods aim to guarantee a high standard of quality, but the difference is how they weigh risk vs. the time required to check the goods.
What is the most challenging aspect of the job?
We must satisfy the brand’s requirements while maintaining a good relationship with manufacturers to minimize the possibility of claims of defective goods.
How do factories respond to you arriving for an inspection?
Usually factory employees are worried about inspection results. But they accept our criticism and, if necessary, cooperate to improve the quality. They understand that quality is one of the main determinants of the success of a brand—and consequently it’s in their interest to make quality goods.
What’s the biggest quality control disaster you’ve seen in your time as a quality inspector?
One brand produced thousands of shoes with openings that were too narrow. Customers couldn’t put them on. This was a mistake made by the brand’s industrialization department. The brand had to destroy all of the shoes!!
How do faulty items get destroyed?
In Italy, there are very strict rules for this process. The brand must use authorized destruction sites, and auditors must be present to legally attest the destruction.
You work almost exclusively with manufacturers in Italy. What are some recent trends that you’ve seen in the local industry?
Many Italian and foreign brands manufacture semi-finished products abroad, and inappropriately use the “Made in Italy” label. (Editor's note: see this article.) This dishonesty is causing significant damage to the real “Made in Italy” label, and to the Italian economy.
Any tips for regular people looking for high quality products?
Many people buy an item just because it has a famous brand name. However, quality goes beyond high prices and advertising. Look for well-made goods by smaller brands. Often they can offer high-quality products at more reasonable prices!