Everything you need to know about the sample-making process


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Embarking on sample-making is one of the most exciting and satisfying parts of the design process. Bringing your ideas to life in the form of a tangible product is the icing on the cake after months of designing, fabric sourcing and pattern cutting.

Not to mention the endless factory visits to find someone worthy enough to actually produce your samples. Some start-up designers assume that one sample of each design will be sufficient to show to a customer or buyer – but what happens if you need to source additional factories for your actual production, if your sales agents have appointments simultaneously, or if you get multiple press requests for a specific design?

The three phases that require sample-making are Design, Sales and Production.

Design-related samples are used to model design ideas and (ideally) finalise the pattern for production. These are used by the designer and pattern cutter. Sales-related samples are used to win orders from buyers. Production samples are intended to test consistency in production and will be made by the factory prior to production.

In total, there are 12 different types of samples. Fortunately, not all of them are essential – but their production is dependent on your operation. For example, if you’re managing your own product development and have samples made from your pattern, your Fit Sample would be the same as the Prototype Sample and would be fitted during the design phase.

However, if you’re outsourcing to a fully factored factory, fit sampling might happen just before production. If you manage things well, the different sample types can serve multiple purposes. Ideally, your prototype sample would be a fit sample and a pre-production sample and maybe even a photography sample.

The following should shed some light on the essential sample-making stages.

DESIGN SAMPLES

Prior to sampling, your pattern cutter will toile (rough prototype sample) your garments in order to visualise them in three-dimensional form. A toile/salpa/prototype is a practice sample of the end product, which is usually made of a medium weight cotton calico for tailored, more structured garments, cotton jersey for stretch garments, thinner cotton calico for bias-cut pieces, or felted material for handbags. It won’t include pockets or trims but these items can be drawn onto the blank canvas for placement references. If any adjustments are made on the toile/prototype, they must be transferred to the paper pattern. Another toile will then need to be made to ensure that the pattern is perfect before it’s finalised. This effort will ensure that the first sample will not have to be remade.

The Fit Sample – also known as the first sample, development sample or design sample – is made from the pattern that was used to create the toile. It’s essential that it’s made in your final fabric otherwise the hang of the garment will be wrong. It’s usually devoid of trimmings and is intended to test the designer’s concept and to get the design, fabrication and fit right. If this sample works out as planned and doesn’t require any corrections, it can be signed off for approval and will become the prototype sample.

The Prototype Sample – sometimes referred to as second sample – is the result of the first sample iterations: the version that meets the designer’s test for execution. The fit should also be as expected so it would also be a fit sample for companies that use a separate factory. Sometimes this second sample stage is skipped due to cost or time restraints.

The Pre-Production Sample reflects all of the desired construction details and is used for costing calculations. Particular care should be taken in approving a sample as a “pre-production” sample because the quote will be based on this. If your production is taking place in- house, the prototype sample should be the pre-production for in-house use, to refer to and make sales samples. It is in sales sampling that the pattern is proven and final costs calculated. Used by factories, this sample reflects all of the construction information needed to produce the style. Factories use this sample to estimate the production costs.

Any changes to the design after a factory has reviewed a pre-production sample could mean going through the quoting process again. For a cost-effective alternative, your finalised prototype could also be designated as your pre-production sample.­ Giving a factory a sample that is not correct will very often result in your whole production looking exactly like that sample.

PRODUCTION SAMPLES

Pre-Production Sample – this sampling stage is to prove the pattern, test cost effectiveness and consistency in production – whether it is done in-house or outsourced to a contractor. If the (counter) sample is approved, it would become the approved pre-production sample. Ideally, pre-production samples are used to pre-sell the product.

Large brands who have multiple showrooms and agent network would often require multiple sets of samples. These are referred to as salesman samples and they are either made at the same time as the pre-production samples if the design is simple, or taken from a production test sampling run.

The Production Sample or Gold Seal Sample, as some large high street retailers refer to it, is the final approved version of a style produced by whichever factory is doing the production. This sample is highly guarded as it becomes the template for all future productions.  Everything produced thereafter is judged against this sample and passed or rejected respectfully.

Often a production test run is done and the output is gauged for quality. Extra samples are usually used for marketing, promotion, pre-sales and perhaps trunk shows. The number of units produced will vary from a single one to a percentage of the intended production lot size. This can be very expensive if the run includes all colourways and sizes.

In apparel manufacturing, where a range is launched in many sizes, a size run sample is produced of a style in all the intended sizes. Ideally, the designs are sized to target the customer profile early on in product development. This may not be possible if the silhouettes vary greatly between styles, meaning you will need to test all the sizes of the various styles.

A Top of Production sample is simply a sample that is taken from the first production run.

This set of samples is taken off the line during your first production order. The number of ToPs you receive is typically a percentage of the full production order in each variation, but this can get expensive. One way to save costs would be to keep your ToP percentage very low. For small orders, one or two garments per variation should be sufficient.

SALESMAN SAMPLE

The Sales Sample is a version of your design that includes all brand-approved fabric and trims. This is the version that you would show to buyers when presenting your collection. This also gives you the chance to test out trim and fabric combinations. This sample is sewn by your factory in order to prove the production costs along with the quality of assembly. You can then use this sample for marketing and presentation to buyers.

The Photography Sample is a sample made in a smaller size for editorial and marketing photo shoots. This may not be necessary if you can pin a garment strategically on the model. If you intend to shoot flat lays, however, you may need to cut the smaller size because it’s difficult to get close enough to fit larger size garment attributes in the photo frame.

The Show Sample is intended for showrooms (but not exclusively) that market directly to fashion editors. You may need to have Photography Samples as above and for the same reasons.

The Ship Sample is a sample that reflects what buyers will receive – right down to QC, folding, tagging, bagging, pre-packs (if applicable), labelling and all final packaging included.

Don’t let the heady mix of sample-making components put you off. As a start-up, it’s unlikely that you will need all of the listed samples initially, providing your pattern cutting and toiles are executed correctly.

If you fit the garments at all stages and make any amendments to patterns and subsequent samples you should manage things with the minimum. This means that you can usually manage on First Sample, maybe Second Sample if many changes were made after the First Sample, and then a Pre-Production Sample. Two to three samples at most are the norm for most small to medium brands.

Whichever way you decide to go – whether you are small or large brand – one thing remains the same. A good and rigorously executed sample-making process ensures a good production. And a good production is the holy grail to which most designer houses and brand aspire.

 


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