The Sampling Process & Why It's Important For Bulk Garment ProductionMar 10, 2022
The Sampling Process & Why It's Important For Bulk Garment Production
The goal is always to get beautiful bulk production and garments we love, but that doesn't always happen for many reasons. Once you understand the sampling process you'll understand why it's so important to your bulk production.
Often times however, when new designers and product managers are just starting out, they may not understand the sampling process or the reason why each stage of the process is important and what you're actually testing for at that particular stage. There are many samples and pattern revisions that often go into the creation of a style, before it's perfect enough to sell to the public. Giving your team enough time for product development coupled with a process that works for your business is key in executing the development process.
Keep reading for a breakdown of the process and what you should be checking for at that stage of the process.
Depending on how your business manages your sampling process, your PR sample may pull double duty as a proto/1st sample, as a PP sample, or it may just be a PR sample.
The PR sample is what you will photograph, and show to buyers and potentially sell off of for both retail and wholesale. You'll take pictures of this sample and use it for either digital ads, linesheets or both.
For my brand, my PR sample is also the PP sample. When possible I try to have 2, one for the factory and one to use for marketing purposes as both objectives often overlap on the timeline.
Because PR samples are used for marketing, I like to use the most perfect sample; the sample created after all of the kinks are worked out. So I use the PP sample as my PR sample too.
It's worth pointing out that some companies use the Proto as the PR sample because of their timeline. When I worked for a major brand that had a great reputation, buyers felt comfortable buying from the PR/Proto/1st sample, because they knew the company could deliver what they promised. As a new brand just starting out, I don't recommend this.
Proto/1st Fit Sample
The prototype (also referred to as the proto and/or the 1st sample) is the very first sample made of your sketch. This sample is testing your your design, first pattern, the initial fabric you selected for the garment to be constructed out of, and the construction of the garment. Your team will also use this sample to begin costing your style, an important part of the process to see if you/your brand can actually afford to make this style.
There are times when the proto/1st sample can be approved for production, after it has been fit. This happens mostly with very basic styles or styles that are iterations of a style you and your team have made before. If you can approve a proto/1st for production, it would then also become your PP sample (pre-production sample).
If you cannot approve your proto/1st sample for PP, then you will make fit comments and adjust the areas that need correcting. Typically this will be construction and/or pattern.
2nd Fit Sample
Once you've got your comments from that first fitting and you know how you want to improve on that sample, all of those changes will happen on the pattern and/or the construction. The result of those changes will create your 2nd fit sample.
If you need to get any new fabric or trims, then do that now, before the sample is made so that they can be used for the making of the 2nd fit sample.
If your 2nd fit sample is perfect and you love it, then you can approve it for PP. If it's not, then make comments and proceed to your 3rd fit.
3rd Fit Sample
Now that you know how you want to improve your 2nd fit sample, you'll essentially do the same thing as before, make the necessary changes and create your 3rd fit sample. Hopefully you can approve your 3rd fit sample for PP.
If you can't approve the 3rd fit sample for PP, you can approve it with comments and have a PP sample sent to confirm that it's ok for production.
If you cannot approve the 3rd fit sample, you and your team need to discuss if this style is able to move forward at this time. Depending on your TNA (time and action calendar) you may not have time to continue to work on the development of this style, which means you'll have to drop it from your line for this collection and perhaps bring it back in another season; allowing you more time to work on and develop the style so it can be all that it is intended to be.
If you can approve it, then go to PP.
The Pre-Production Sample is the completed, most perfect sample of all of your samples. It is you and your team telling the factory that this is how we want our garment to look. For my brand, we also use the PP sample as the PR sample, and typically have 2 made so that we have one for the factory + one to use for marketing purposes.
Your PP sample should be approved and correct for:
Keep in mind that all pattern grading, fabric ordering, trim ordering and construction are based off of this sample. So having it exactly as you want it is key.
Once your production has started, you'll want to request a T.O.P sample. The T.O.P is top of production. It's your factory showing you what the bulk production is looking like. You'll want to do this early on so that in the event there is an error, they can course correct sooner rather than later.
It's worth pointing out that any errors that pop up at this point SHOULD only be construction issues as you and your team have developed the product and worked out all of the issues you can control BEFORE passing to the factory.
Approving samples that are incorrect and that still have issues doesn't mean the factory will magically figure out the problem you and your team couldn't; it means that you're in for a world of headache because now that problem will be multiplied by the amount of units you ordered for this style.
When I used to work for brands we often wore the samples to test the construction. We also washed them or dry cleaned them (what ever the care instructions state), to test the fabric, the dye, the fit after washing, how it looked after washing & drying, seams, thread; basically everything you can think of.
The goal is to ensure that anything that could happen to the garment is brought to your attention before your customer ever experiences it. This allows you to course correct, and have solutions. This is how a care label can say, "machine wash warm separately". Because they know it will bleed and dye will get on other garments and frustrating your consumers.
Part of your job is to know what your garment will do and how it will behave. Wear testing is an important part of the process to answer those types of questions. If your style is approved for fabric and construction, but not fit-it's possible to wear test one of the earlier versions of the style while working on the new sample version. It all depends on what makes sense for that style and your timeline.
During your sampling process it is critical that you and your team identify each sample and corresponding pattern with what version it is. You will need to clearly mark and label the sample as 2nd fit or PP for example. Failure to do this can cause a lot of confusion for you and your teams (trust me.....it's no fun scrambling for samples and not knowing which version you're looking at).
For my brand, once we have the approved sample and pattern, all other versions get stored away. We only catalog the approved sample and pattern so we are only ever looking at good patterns/samples.
Development samples and patterns get stored somewhere completely different and never mingle with the approved samples. How you manage this will be up to you, but make sure that you have a structured system in place that all team members understand and are familiar enough with so they can pull from and put back samples with ease.
As your pattern and sample closet begin to grow, you can organize it by season so looking for a particular style becomes easier as your closet grows.
I'd also recommend creating a digital catalog so that you can see at a glance what style is where. Very helpful when manipulating patterns for move on styles (styles that are adopted from an original pattern from a previous season).
Tools to Label Patterns & Samples
To label my patterns I have a stamp that I stamp on all of the pattern pieces "original pattern". Then it's signed by me and dated. You can have custom stampers made and buy ink pads for not a lot of money from most office supply stores.
The samples are tagged with our hang tag and says "Approved sample. Do not cut or destroy".
When I managed the sample room at one of the previous designers I worked for, I had a check in check out system since there was so much movement with the patterns and samples. All pattern makers, seamstresses even the designer, had to sign out what they were taking from the closet and sign it back in so we could easily know who had the pattern or sample at any time. Something that is really helpful when in a busy sample room.
Product development and proper sample making go hand in hand and are at the core of creating beautiful garments. Do you need help creating a product development process that works for you? Do you have questions that I can help with? Feel free to set up a free 30 min call with me ( https://calendly.com/nichyl/30min ), or email me ([email protected]) so we can figure out a better process for your product development and your brand and finally start solving your sampling problems.
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