Product Testing: What’s required (and what you should do even though it’s not required)
Federal law mandates that manufacturers and importers test many of the products and garments they make, to ensure that they are safe for use by the general public. Children’s products for example, are one of the categories with the most stringent requirements. To find out what testing your product may need, visit this page on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website.
However, not everyone has to perform product testing. But does that mean you should manufacture stuff that is entirely un-tested? If you care about quality, the answer should be no! There are two main ways to perform tests outside of federally mandated guidelines…one is to use a testing agency and check whatever interests/concerns you, and the other is to have your friends and family use the product or wear the garment, and provide informal feedback. Most smaller or new brands will want to use a combination of these two methods.
Testing agencies such as Intertek and UL are global companies who test products across a variety of categories, in various laboratories around the world. Using a large agency can be beneficial, because they will most likely have offices wherever you decide to produce. The test options vary widely, from seam strength to flammability to lead content. Browsing the services listed under your particular product category is a great way to gauge the best practice. In most instances, you (or your factory) send the agency samples of your product, they conduct the test(s), and then send you a formal report with the results. It’s a straightforward procedure, and the costs are not out of bounds for small makers. Testing weight capacity, for example, can be done for under $200!
Having friends and family ‘test’ products is likely to be free, and while the data is not as technical, the information that you receive is equally as valuable. People that know you (and care about your success) are likely to provide holistic feedback. For example, “Stuff kept falling out of the pockets” or “The zippers were hard to move… I think they might break quickly.” This type of testing is best done in the product development phase, with working samples, so that you have time and space to integrate feedback. Agency tests meanwhile, are suggested on pre-production samples (the samples you approve before giving a supplier the green light on a full order) or pre-ship samples (the samples you approve before agreeing to pay the balance on an order and ship the final goods).
Testing is so important because it helps prevent oversight and negligence on the part of the designer who created the product, as well as the person sourcing the materials, and the factory in charge of putting it all together. For those serious about bringing good products into the market place, it’s a great idea to create a ‘testing plan’ for each item in your line. This plan should overview government requirements, desired agency tests, and a simple strategy for engaging friends and family.