For any relative newcomers to the apparel industry, the many and varied stages and processes that need to be undertaken when producing a garment, not to mention the different terminologies and technical terms that are used, can make the apparel sector seem inaccessible and unnavigable. So integrated are the many procedures involved, that it’s often difficult to see where actual production begins.
A vital and often complex part of the apparel production process, the need to efficiently and effectively produce and manage samples can be a major stumbling block. By getting it right first time, businesses can make a real difference to the rest of the product lifecycle, ensuring less errors, increased efficiency and ultimately, better margins.
Before looking at ways to improve the sample process, it’s vital to understand that there’s no such thing as a ‘simple sample’. What’s actually involved in a series of different items produced for different purposes during the development process. And, just to make things that extra bit more complicated, these various samples often have different names.
Muslin (dummy, mock-up, drape, prototype, proto)
This is the very first concept sample, typically sewn in an inexpensive fabric. It’s a loose interpretation of the design used to visualize an idea in three-dimensional form. A rough muslin typically excludes extras such as bags and trims, and it’s created to focus purely on construction. For some smaller brands, the muslin is also known as the prototype. This may go through multiple iterations of prototypes before the pattern is finalized.
Fit sample (first sample, original sample, sample test garment, development sample, design sample, style reference, parent pattern)
This sample is created from the first pattern and used to ensure the desired fit of the garment. Muslins or prototypes are often used as fit samples.
Sew-by sample (costing sample, pre-production, pre-pro, P/P)
Used by factories to estimate cost of production, this sample reflects all of the construction information needed to produce the style. Any changes to the design after a factory has reviewed a sew-by sample could mean going through the quotation process again. For a cost effective-alternative, a finalized prototype could also be designated as a sew-by sample.
Sales sample (counter sample, duplicate)
This sample is sewn by the factory in order to prove the production costs along with the quality of assembly. This can then be used for marketing and presentation to buyers.
Photo sample (model size, flat sample, editorial sample)
Photo samples are made to fit the size of model being used for product photography. If a model isn’t being used for a lookbook or e-commerce imagery, it is still recommended that smaller size photo samples are available which can fit into the frame of a camera.
Size run (size set, sizing sample)
These are a full suite samples made in each size that the style will be sold in, made to ensure appropriate grading of the style and the fit of each garment. One way to save a bit of money, in fabric and trimming as well as cut and sew costs, is to produce every other size.
Top of production (TOP)
This set of samples is taken off the line during the first production order. The number of TOPs received is typically a percentage of the full production order in each variation, but this can get expensive. One way to save costs is to keep the TOP percentage very low. For small batch orders, one or two garments per variation should suffice.
Aside from all these different types of samples, there’s a real need to produce multiple samples, although they don’t necessarily have to all be produced at once. For example, the business might just need one initial sample when working with the designer but will then need to order a new sample for each additional person or stage in the supply chain. So, with multiple partners involved in product design and development (designers, pattern makers, factories, photographers, buyers etc), having just one sample slows down the process considerably, with different partners having to wait to receive the style sample from another partner.
With multiple sample types and multiple samples involved, it’s easy to see why the sample stage of the production process is complex, time-consuming and potentially error-prone. Some fashion businesses are turning to technology for help, recognising the time and cost efficiencies that the right software can bring. By implementing industry-specific software, designed to support the entire garment development and production process, from initial concept and design through to delivery, apparel businesses are gaining greater control of not just their production, but their business as a whole.
With one central repository for data, used by all departments and business functions, you can guarantee that each sample will be the same, produced according to up-to-date, accurate information. And, if any changes are made, by the designer or pattern-maker for example, these changes are reflected immediately in the system, ensuring that there are no inconsistencies or irregularities in samples produced, regardless of your position in the process. The ability to keep track of what sample is where, keeps everything flowing nicely, again improving efficiencies and preventing any hold-ups.
With the right solution in place, fashion businesses can simplify the sample stage, saving time, reducing errors and increasing efficiency. This makes way for a smoother end-to-end product lifecycle, getting garments to market, faster, making a real difference to the bottom line.
For more information on how Argentis can help your business, browse our apparel solutions.