8 Sample Stages You Need To Know
The Importance Of Clothing Samples
Besides just being an exciting step in the product development process (getting to see your design ideas finally come to life!!), sample making in the garment industry is extremely important to the success of your fashion label.
We cannot stress enough how imperative it is to get garment samples before going to production! As equally important as a good tech pack. Scouts honor!
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During the sampling stage is when you can check and improve the fit of your garment through working with a fit model.
Our advice is to use the same fit model each time to ensure consistency as all bodies are unique and different (and beautiful, of course!).
Design And Development
Clothing samples also give you a chance to review the design and proportions of the style.
I don’t know about you but sometimes my initial design can look amazing on paper, but then in real life it’s just not quite right.
Ever seen a style where the statement sleeve made too big of a statement?
Or the waist seam on a garment that hit at an awkward and unflattering spot on the torso?
These design features probably looked stunning in the fashion illustration, but real life is not always the same.
Seeing samples before production allows you to iterate on your design ideas. That way you only go to market with the best possible version of your design.
There’s nothing worse than buying a cute jumpsuit (Romper? Playsuit? What are they called these days?!) just to find out it buttons all the way up the back.
That’s one way to make friends with strangers in the bathroom! Hi, sorry, excuse me… Can you button me up, please? 😆
Functionality might not always be the first thing people think of when it comes to fashion, but it is a very important factor!
When checking the fit, a good fit model will provide this sort of feedback to you. But asking the right questions can help you to get the best information possible.
Was it hard to get on and off? Can you comfortably sit? Does the hem circumference of the dress restrict walking? If you reach up, does the top ride up and show too much skin?
My favorite is the “driving test”. Have the fit model reach her/his hands forward as if gripping a steering wheel to check if the across back is too tight.
Sampling also enables your suppliers to give you more accurate costings.
Through sampling, factories can determine fabric and thread consumption and general manufacturing costs which in turn allows them to quote a finished FOB (freight on board) price to you.
In fact, many knitwear suppliers cannot quote cost until they have completed a sample as they have to work out the garment weight to calculate the yarn consumption.
See how important garment samples are?!
The Many Types of Samples
Now that we understand why we need to sample, let’s look at what kinds of samples there are and how each is used in the development process.
Toile or Muslin
The Toile (also known as a Mulsin) is a quick mockup of the pattern to double check the design and basic fit points.
Usually done by the patternmaker or an in-house sample maker, the Toile is made from cheap fabric, often Muslin fabric (hence the name!) in order to give a better visualization of your design concept.
Proto or Fit Sample
The Proto (short for prototype 😉) is referred to as the Fit Sample by some. This sample’s primary purpose is for, you guessed it... fitting!
Protos can be made in substitute fabric for yarn that is similar to the bulk material in weight and drape.
You wouldn’t want to sample in a light cotton poplin and then go to bulk in a heavy corduroy fabric. The fabric properties can directly affect the fit which affects the pattern.
When starting out, it’s not uncommon to go through multiple rounds of protos, P1, P2, P3, etc. Even mature brands might need more than one proto if working on a completely new concept.
However, when starting a style from an existing block that already has a good fit, it's more common to only require one proto. That’s when it’s smooth sailin’!
Size Set Samples
Some brands require the factory to submit a full size run in a style. This is a great way to check your grading and ensure your fit is consistent across the size range.
It helps to have fit models of different sizes to properly fit Size Set Samples. Remember, consistency is key, so try to use the same fit model per size each time.
The Sales(wo)man Sample is usually referred to as the SMS sample for short.
The SMS must be in bulk fabrics and trims and is used for, you got it, SALES!
These samples are especially important for brands who do wholesale as this is what the agents will use to show potential customers and get pre-sales.
As these samples are created in your factory’s sample room instead of on the production floor, it will be a longer turnaround time per piece. Be sure to coordinate timing with your factory in advance.
The Photo samples are used for photography for product promotion or e-commerce.
Photo samples would ideally be in bulk fabric/trims, but sometimes due to short timelines, substitutions can be made. In these cases, try to use fabrics and trims that are as similar to bulk as possible and then let your photographer do their post-production magic (Thank you, Photoshop!).
Referred to as the PP, the Pre-production sample is the last checkpoint before production. Usually in correct fabric and trims, the PP is what you fit and check in order to approve the style to bulk.
Top of Production
Top of Production samples, usually just called TOP samples, are pieces pulled directly from bulk production. Checking TOP samples gives you a chance to ensure bulk production is proceeding as your approved PP sample.
After production is finished, Shipment samples are taken from bulk to be checked by a your QC department before approving the bulk lot to be shipped. This step is to check not only the garment (including quality, workmanship and that the specs are within tolerance) but all aspects of the finished product, including the folding and packaging method.
The Shipment Sample is an exact representation of what you will receive when your bulk shipment arrives.
If there are any issues with the Shipment Samples, you have more leverage to negotiate the factory fixing the issues while they are still on the factory floor. Once it's on the ship, it’s of course much harder to negotiate and it’s unlikely you will want to spend the time and money getting it sent back to the factory to be fixed.
Garment Sampling Process
Don’t worry, not all brands need to get every single one of these types of samples. It’s kind of a pick your own adventure situation.
It will depend on the style, your block library, your relationship with your factory and many other factors.
Additionally, samples can often act as multiple of the above. For instance, if you get your PP sample in time and it is in bulk fabrics and trims, you can easily use this as your photography sample.
Use the above as a guide, not a definitive checklist.
Tech Packs For Better Garment Samples
With a good tech pack, your factory has all the tools they need from you in order to make good samples from the beginning. Remember to include all the details of your design in order to reduce the number of protos you need. Happy Sampling!