Featured Product
This Week in Quality Digest Live
Standards Features
Megan Wallin-Kerth
MasterControl’s Matt Lowe talks competition, data, and what quality does for a company
Using the CASCO Toolbox to repair and restore
Todd Hawkins
Good documentation is worth the effort you put into it
Rupa Mahanti
With data as the fuel of the digital economy, data governance is the much needed brake
Bryan Christiansen
Workplace policies that reduce accidents and enhance safety

More Features

Standards News
Creates one of the most comprehensive regulatory SaaS platforms for the industry
Yotrio and SunVilla to provide interactive, 3D-enabled assembly via BILT app
KCP25C grade with KENGold coating sets new standard for wear and productivity in steel turning
Takes action to mitigate risk of medical devices shortage
Standards, testing help autonomous vehicles drive safely
Offering production versatility and throughput with increased detection sensitivity and low energy consumption
New lines improve software capability and analysis
Automotive cybersecurity on Feb. 9, and AS9145 on Feb. 28

More News

Denise Robitaille


Getting Personal About Customer Requirements

How do they fit into your QMS?

Published: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - 08:09

Ok, men. Leave the room.

Today, I want to discuss fulfilling customer requirements as they relate to one particular product: The bra. For those men who’ve not heeded the warning to leave, you may, by the end of this article have discovered, one of the perennial reasons for your spouse’s grumpiness. Quite frankly, shopping for and procuring a comfortable and functional bra is a feat requiring the specificity of an engineer, the undaunted persistence of a bloodhound, the time of an idle trust fund brat, and the patience of a saint. And consider that this is a multibillion dollar industry.

I’d like to take a look at the processes related to the production of this undergarment in terms of the requirements of ISO 9001 and pose questions relative to the level of conformance vis-à-vis the design and manufacture of the product and any analysis of customer satisfaction.

Let’s take the last one first: Customer satisfaction. ISO 9001 has multiple requirements relating to the need to measure and analyze customer satisfaction.

5.2 Customer focus states: “Top management shall ensure that customer requirements are determined and are met with the aim of enhancing customer satisfaction.”

5.6 Management review identifies customer feedback as one of the inputs into the management review process. 

8.2.1 Customer satisfaction states: “As one measure of the performance of the quality management system, the organization shall monitor information relating to customer perception as to whether the organization has met customer requirements.”


8.4 Analysis of data requires the organization to: “… determine, collect and analyze appropriate data... generated as a result of monitoring and measurement…. The analysis of data shall provide information relating to (a) customer satisfaction…”

So, how does all this monitoring, measuring, analysis, etc. of customer satisfaction occur? I can tell you that this customer is not satisfied. I suppose I could start writing letters, revisiting stores, blogging, and returning product. But that really is a lot of work.

The situation is not unique to undergarments. It’s the same for most retail commodities, which brings up an interesting point.

ISO 9001 requires organizations to gather information about customer satisfaction. But in a tiered commercial construct, do organizations know who their customers are? And do they care? The designers create fashions for large corporations who then outsource the manufacture to organizations who then sell to wholesalers who sell to retail outlets who sell to end-users. The corporation has three distinct customers: the wholesaler, the retailer, and the consumer. Were this an industrial environment, where the fabricator is supplying components to another manufacturer, the path from supplier to customer would be short and direct; the ability to gather data, proportionally uncomplicated. Additionally, any manufacturer having an ISO 9001 is required to gather the data. Failing to do so is a nonconformance. They need to go out and get the information. In a retail environment, a comparable pull system does not exist. The manufacturers expect the consumers to do all the leg work if they’re unsatisfied. In some retail markets the process to register a complaint that will reach a receptive entity borders on the Machiavellian.

This actually backs us into the ISO 9001 subclause dealing with customer requirements: 7.2.1 Determination of requirements related to the product. The two most relevant for this discussion are (a) “requirements specified by the customer…” and (b) requirements not stated by the customer but necessary for specified or intended use, where known….”  It’s kind of difficult to be specific about a bra when the retailer is basically saying: “This is what we’ve got. Period.” The ability to mix and match various features is not nearly as extensive as the uninitiated would expect. So going to the counter in the store or on to the web site and requesting a bra, for example, of a certain size, with support and no padding, in a certain color with front closure will rarely yield the desired result. As to the part about requirements not stated by the customer, but necessary for the intended use, it’s astounding to fathom what is or is not an intended use, based upon what’s on the market.

So, let’s move on to the 7.3 Design and development. Here there are three salient requirements for this discussion. The first two are found in 7.3.2 dealing with inputs into the design process. The first listed input is: “…functional and performance requirements….” Translated from quality speak, this is the ubiquitous “fit, form, and function” features of any product.

Top of the list: the bra has to fit. Chiropractors report that ill-fitting bras are one of the major causes of women’s backaches. Apparently, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to the designers that some women have large bosoms but narrow shoulders. Hence spacing the straps based on this presumption means many women are constantly adjusting shoulder straps that keep slipping down. One retailer suggests going down one size to compensate. Big surprise: It doesn’t work. Other dimensions that aren’t uniform include such things as the distance from shoulder to upper-midriff and the ratio of cup size to overall torso measurement. Women end up with straps digging into shoulders, underwires poking delicate skin and even chest pains.

Next, we look at form. It has to complement the ensembles that it supports. It has to form the right foundation to allow dresses, blouses, blazers, t-shirts, etc. to drape properly over them without compromising fashion or style.

Finally, there’s function. This can relate to a number of things. Front closure or back closure addresses health issues especially with older women suffering from restricted mobility or arthritis. Support ensures against unsightly jiggling; lining (not padding) contributes to modesty. There are sports bras for the gym, strapless bras for evening gowns, and 18-hours bras to keep you comfortable and still looking professional during long work days. And, part of the functionality of the bra is that I have to like the color and the way it looks and feels.

There are other factors and functions, but, since some men still haven’t left the room, I’ll leave those to fertile imaginations.

The second requirement in 7.3.2 states under (c) that part of the inputs can be derived from previous designs. This gets us back to the first point having to do with customer satisfaction. If the organization doesn’t have reasonable conduits for receiving information about customers’ satisfaction or dissatisfaction with previous designs, that input can’t be include in the newer design.

The last relevant requirement is found in 7.3.6. It deals with validation—with ensuring that the design “… is capable of meeting the requirements for the specified application or the intended use.” I have no idea who they’re using to validate the functionality of bras, but they haven’t asked me. And I don’t think they’ve asked anyone like me. That’s my impression based upon the product that finds its way to market.

So, basically, if we were to apply the requirements of various aspects of ISO 9001 to the bra industry, they would not survive a certification assessment.


About The Author

Denise Robitaille’s picture

Denise Robitaille

Denise Robitaille is the author of thirteen books, including: ISO 9001:2015 Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.

She is chair of PC302, the project committee responsible for the revision to ISO 19011, an active member of USTAG to ISO/TC 176 and technical expert on the working group that developed the current version of ISO 9004:2018. She has participated internationally in standards development for over 15 years. She is a globally recognized speaker and trainer. Denise is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality and an Exemplar Global certified lead assessor and an ASQ certified quality auditor.

As principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped many companies achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. She has conducted training courses for thousands of individuals on such topics as auditing, corrective action, document control, root cause analysis, and implementing ISO 9001. Among Denise’s books are: 9 Keys to Successful Audits, The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2015 Transition and The Corrective Action Handbook. She is a frequent contributor to several quality periodicals.


Great examples of form, fit

Great examples of form, fit and function. You really need to forward this article to the quality and customer satisfaction managers at Playtex, Maidenform, Victoria Secret, Bali, etc.....! Wonder how many of these companies are ISO9001 registered.... Need I say more?

While I agree entirely with

While I agree entirely with the article, should not something be said for cost and service? Can a bra not be better fit by a trained individual, and better fitting products provided at greater cost? Part of the customer requirement is always value - do you have to pay more for a more satisfactory product? Ideally, using the standards would say no, since you get the customer requirements nailed down and then provide for them. But in the garment industry that finds the cheapest overhead for the largest volume product, I would think that putting people variation in separate buckets, ie standardized sizes and shapes is the most efficient design.

If only you knew...

Let's talk about cost, service and "trained" individuals. I've been to bra fittings provided by stores who say their salespeople are "trained" bra fitters. What they do is measure you, leave you sitting cold and half naked in the fitting room, and reappear with several styles which "should" fit. You put them on, adjust the straps and then are told that one breast is bigger than the other. DUH---I've always known that! Then the sales person says that is a hard thing to work around and I'll just have to choose the best of the bunch. And oh, by the way, DO try the lacy one because my husband will like it best. NOT that it will fit any better but that my husband will like it best.

I have paid as much as $80 for a bra that only semi-fits, because that is all that is available. What we need are bespoke bras, the way men's fine shirts and suits are made. When was the last time you saw an ad for bespoke brassieres?

Instead of burning our bras, I think we ought to research how many of these companies are ISO certified and begin a letter campaign. There must be some way to get better quality and service than the current practice!

Customer requirements for personal garments

As a frequently unsatisfied customer of said consumer products, I agree with you 100%. How do we clue in the supply chain that health and quality of life is at stake here, not just aesthetics?