1. ISO 9000 is a quality standard certification that is given by ISO, an international network of local national standards institutes. As a quality management program, the basic aim of ISO is to set standards for products within the globalized market in an “industry-specific” way. This therefore gives industries, sellers and buyers a reference to an external quality index that is applicable to a particular product. At the same time, however, the specificity of ISO 9000 lies in its expansiveness, insofar as it designates a “generic standard for quality management systems that could be applied to virtually any company in any industry in any country.” (Kelly & McGowen, p. 265, 2010) Accordingly, ISO 9000 provides a general synopsis of the quality of products in general.
In contrast, the quality management program of Six Sigma can be defined as an overall company and management philosophy. The basic function of Six Sigma is that it “shifts the paradigm quality as the cause of good business performance and not the effect.” (Mukherjee, 2006, p. 337) Accordingly, Six Sigma does not attempt to reach quality management standards that are defined by an exterior source, but rather starts from a definition of quality that is consistent with the company’s vision, and thus produces goods within this framework.
Both quality management programs obviously stress the quality of products, in order to help ensure the success of producers and the satisfaction of consumers. However, the means by which Sigma Six and ISO 9000 accomplish this aim are radically different. ISO 9000 is an exterior standard, defined by an international network. Accordingly, companies attempt to achieve this standard. In contrast, Sigma Six is what may be termed a wholly immanent approach to quality, in which quality is to be present throughout the business, beginning at its most foundational levels. The business does not attempt to satisfy pre-existing and exteriorly defined quality standards, but rather its entire structure is imbued with a self-defined notion of quality that determines its strategies. The crucial difference between ISO 9000 and Six Sigma thus lies in the former’s somewhat mechanical approach to quality management and the latter’s greater philosophical approach to quality management.
2. Two examples of companies within the fashion and apparel industry that employ Six Sigma concepts for quality management are Textured Jersey (hereinafter: TJ) and Bob’s stores respectively. In the case of TJ, the company manufactures fabric for women’s wear, producing approximately 6 million meters per year (Smith & Bates, 2003, p. 496) TJ’s decision to implement Six Sigma can be traced back to the successes of the strategy among major companies; moreover, the notion that such major companies set their own standards for excellence and quality informed TJ’s choice. (Smith & Bates, 2003, p. 496) Regarding their implementation of Six Sigma, TJ set the following goals: that Six Sigma is recognized as a benchmark to be attained; that it becomes completely institutionalized; that “bottom-line” improvements emerge; that existing problems are eliminated; that an encouraging work environment develops; and that novelty is a crucial part of the company’s world view. (Smith & Bates, 2003, p. 496) Accordingly, the approach of TJ was one of a radical change in the company’s philosophy, which generated such positive effects as general cost reduction and productivity increases. (Smith & Bates, 2003, p. 496) Furthermore, recent aims of TJ as defined by the Six Sigma strategy have included an aggressive expansion of their production base. (Textured Jersey, 2011) The primary decision of TJ’s quality management program can therefore be understood as an attempt to remain proactive as opposed to reactive: an internal conception of quality that is generated throughout the company, and furthermore, the realization of this notion of quality in all phases of the company’s operations, for example, from the establishment of a positive work environment to an emphasis on “bottom line” economics, demonstrates the company-wide changes that Six Sigma has encouraged. What is arguably crucial about TJ’s approach is its embracement of novelty: quality is not considered as something static, but rather as ever-evolving, insofar as new standards of what constitutes a quality product continually emerge, either determined by consumer demand or advancements made by the competitors. (Smith & Bates, 2003, p. 496)
Bob’s Stores is an American fashion retailer that sells discounted brand clothing. The company went bankrupt in 2003, but under new ownership implemented a Six Sigma strategy in 2006. (SBTI, 2008, p. 1) This implementation was preceded by a careful and multi-step investigation of relevant Six Sigma strategies to fashion retailers, and included contacting Six Sigma consulting firms and “holding an executive offsite to confirm strategic objectives.” (SBTI, 2008, p. 1) The main goal of the company was to “improve performance”, thereby prohibiting expansion until existing stores were deemed to be efficient and profitable. (SBTI, 2008, p. 1) This aim coincided to the delineation of specific projects as follows: the development of a vision statement; a definition of business critical factors for the next period; the generation of new ideas; ranking relevant projects; an overall strategy review; and final project decisions. (SBTI, 2008, p. 2) The specific results of these quality programs included the improvement of the seasonal floor set and making the purchase order process more efficient. (SBTI, 2008, p. 2) In the case of Bob’s Stores, Six Sigma as quality management program was therefore employed to improve the quality of existing stores. Unlike TJ’s appropriation of Six Sigma, with its emphasis on aggressive novelty, Bob’s Stores decided to improve their already existing stores and thus form a standard of quality from existing company resources. The two companies therefore demonstrate the versatility of Six Sigma strategies, insofar as Six Sigma is consistent with both highly aggressive and more conservative approaches.