The way I pick topics for blog posts is that I like to see what brands keep consistently asking me for help with, then write a post to help answer those common questions they have. What I have been noticing recently is that a lot of brands don't understand the difference between a sample maker, sample, room, and their production line. They are then utilizing their sample makers in the wrong way. While sample makers are great for making prototypes, they are actually not critical to the manufacturing process. Don't worry I'll explain more in a minute. To clear all this up, and to help you work as efficiently (read save time and money) as possible, this week I am going to break down what a clothing sample maker does, and how to work with one.
The craziest thing is, sample makers don't even actually make samples. They make prototypes.
Let's dig in.
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Clothing Sample Makers, Sample Room, Factory Line
Let's start with the three basics.
Purpose Of A Sample Maker
A sample maker is someone (usually local) that will make a clothing prototype for you. They are generally independent of factories. Their job is to sew a garment for you based on what you design, and the supplies you bring them.
What A Sample Room Does
A sample room is a room in a factory that is dedicated to making samples. Before a garment goes into fashion production a series of different samples must be made and approved. Working with a factory sample room comes after working with a sample maker.
Once your proto is finished you send it to the factory where you will then go through up to 5 rounds of product development sampling including.
FIT SAMPLES - check the fit and construction of your garments
COMPONENT APPROVALS - approve all components to be used in your garment
COLOR + PRINT APPROVALS - make sure the colors and prints are just right
SMS, Sales Man Samples - a sample that should represent exactly what you will get in production
SIZE SET SAMPLES - to check the graded specs
GPT SAMPLES, Garment Production Testing - this sample goes to a lab for testing like colorfastness, waterproof rating, etc
Factory Line Samples AKA Production Samples
A quick tip about working with a sample room. This is generally where the best sewers work. So, remember to keep that in mind as your product moves from development stages to production. To make sure everything is perfect in production, part of your quality production plan should be to also include various stages of production samples. Just keep this in mind, we will get to all the different kinds of development and production samples another day.
So, recap there are 3 stages of sample making. They are, working with a sample maker to create prototypes, working with a sample room to create counter samples, and then finally working with the production line to create production samples to ensure bulk quality standards.
It is very important to follow this order. If you try to go out of order you will end up wasting not only time but also money.
Let's look deeper into the first stage, working with a sample maker to create protos.
How To Work With A Sample Maker
Have your pattern ready.
You need to hire a pattern maker to make your pattern and cutters must. A cutters must is basically the instruction manual to your pattern. It lets the sample maker know how many pieces need to be cut, and in what fabric.
Generally, the job of sample makers is only to sew everything together. But, in some cases, sample makers will also offer pattern services. Make sure to be clear about who is developing the pattern and cutters must.
The sample maker will then make a prototype using the pattern, and all the materials you gave them.
Remember you are responsible for giving your sample maker everything necessary to make the garment.
What Are The Benefits Of Working With A Sample Maker?
Work Directly For Easy Communication
If you are working with a local sample maker it will generally make communication a lot easier. If this is your first time creating a garment from scratch, you might find it hard to explain what it is you want. The fashion industry has a whole dictionary of words that you have probably never heard of before so using the right terminology to get your point across can be difficult at first.
By working with someone local to make your proto you can go and visit them in person to have working sessions. I have been in this industry for over a decade now, and even I still find it easier to work with people in person.
If you are a brand that is inventing something totally new that has never been done before, you definitely might want to work with a local sample room. As I mentioned before working with someone in person just makes everything so much easier.
By working locally you can quickly and easily make 2, 3, 4, or even more prototypes in the time it might take your factory sample room just to make 1.
Give Your Factory Something To Copy
When you have a proto you can send it to your factory and tell them to copy it exactly, fewer mistakes will happen. Most factories are actually really good at copying. So, when you send something for a factory to copy it mitigates your risk of things going wrong, and needing to sample multiple times to get it just right.
Helps To Create A Perfect Tech Pack + Spec Sheets
Here is the truth. In over 10 years of me working in fashion, I have never seen a perfect tech pack.
And, the scary thing is that small mistakes could cause huge quality issues in your garment if you are not careful. When you have a proto and you are able to give that to your tech team it helps them to make fewer mistakes and create accurate tech packs that will help you get your product made perfectly.
If you are doing a micro-production run a sample maker might do it for you.
This is great when you are just starting out. You might want to make only a few pieces to test the market and get customer feedback. Your sample maker might be able to help you with a micro-production run of just a few trial pieces.
Yes, making a few samples will be more expensive than making 100. But remember this. It's better to sell out of 3 pieces than use a factory to make 100. Then, when you know your customers love them, you can make 100 pieces. Imagine making 100 pieces right out of the gate and have them sitting in your closet for 2 years because customers wish they were just a little bit different, and now it's too late to make changes.
What Are The Cons Of Working With A Sample Maker?
They Don't Always Have The Same Machines As The Factory
Sample makers sometimes have limited machines, which can create problems with the types of stiches used.
The other thing is, clothes sample makers generally work much slower than a factory. Sometimes factories use quicker techniques to produce your product faster and save money. When they do this, the overall effect could be a cheaper look, that might not be right for your brand.
Be careful with the machines and types of seams your factory plans to use, and always make sure to have a conversation with your factory about what will be used.
I am not going to sugarcoat it, sample makers are expensive. There is just no way around it. The reason brands spend the extra money to use a sample maker is for all of the pros above.
Can Be Slow
Sample makes and sample rooms are slammed right now. A lot of sample units switched gears back in March 2020 to start producing masks. The reality is, mask making is kind of what saved a lot of these small business owners. And most of them, even though the fashion industry is back and booming are still making masks as a side hustle because they are easy to make and the margins are great.
I always say to be clear about timelines and deliverables. But, even with super clarity, always plan to add on a week or two. Unfortunately, that is just the way this industry is, if I could wave a magic wand and change that, I would.
Can You Skip The Proto?
That is up to you. You need to do what is right for you and your brand, your product, and your budget.
Quick Tips When Working With A Sample Maker
Before you work with anyone, including your sample maker, get referrals. Ask for brands that they have worked with before. And, chat with a few people first to hear about their experience. If a sample maker won't give you references, run, don't walk away.
Make 2 Protos
Why two? One is for you to keep. What if your proto gets lost in the mail? What if your factory loses it? It's always good to have a backup.
Also, it's nice to have something on hand when you facetime or zoom with a factory so you can both be looking at the same thing at the same time.
Ask Your Pattern Maker For Help Finding A Sample Maker
If you are having trouble finding a sample maker, try asking your pattern maker. Your pattern maker most likely has a few sample makers and industry connections they have been working with for years, and would be happy to refer you.
Make The Proto Before The Teck Pack
Remember how I said that protos made by sample makers can be super helpful for making your tech packs? Keep that in mind, and make sure your prototypes are made before you try to make your factory tech packs.
Or, you can try making your tech pack yourself with one of my favorite industry tools, Techpacker.
What Do You Think?
Are you going to use a sample maker for your garment prototypes? Or, skip it and move straight to the factory sample room?