There are three broad classes of samples, one for each phase. These sequential phases are design, sales and production. Design related samples are to model design ideas and (ideally) finalize the pattern for production. Sales related samples are used to predict orders from buyers. The last type of samples are intended to test consistency in production.
Technically (and optimally) speaking, all sampling should take place during the first phase of design (R&D) because you can’t get to selling (second phase) if you don’t have production (third phase) lined up. I’m aware practices are all over the map these days but I have tried to cover every contingency.
This list may be overwhelming because I’ve attempted to be all inclusive but it does not mean you will need to have all of these kinds of samples produced. There is also quite a bit of overlap depending on your operation. By way of example are fit samples. If you’re managing your product development and having samples made from your patterns, your fit samples are the same thing as protos and would be fitted during the design phase. However, if you are outsourcing to a full package contractor, fit sampling might happen just before production. If you manage well, the different sample types can serve multiple purposes. For example, ideally your proto (prototype sample) is a fit sample and a sew by (pre-production) sample and maybe even a photo sample.
Sample name: Muslin
Synonyms: dummy, mock-up, drape
Explanation: This is a concept sample, often a rough rendition of a drape sewn together. Used primarily by designers who prefer to convey design ideas in actual fabric as part of their creation process instead of drawing a sketch. Or, they have an idea but can’t articulate it so they put fabric to mannequin instead. Also see.
Sample name: Fit sample or First sample
Synonyms: original sample, sample test garment, development sample, design sample
Explanation: This is a sample made from the first (or production quality) pattern (which was made from the muslin or mock-up) and intended to test the designer’s idea or concept in the chosen fabrication. If design, fabrication and fit of this sample come out as planned and doesn’t need corrections, it is approved and becomes the prototype sample.
Sample name: Fit sample
Synonyms: style reference, parent pattern
Explanation: [In addition to the context above in that fit and first sample are the same thing] In some companies, a fit sample can refer to an earlier proven style that fits well and is used as a point of reference for design iterations, providing the basis of new style development and fit. In such cases, this preceding fit sample would be called a style reference and its pattern would be a sort of “parent” pattern or block.
Sample name: Prototype
Explanation: This sample is the result of previous 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 designation. Ideally, a proto sample is also a sew by as described below. If you sew in house, the prototype should be used for costing and become the production sew-by.
Sample name: Sew by
Synonyms: pre-production sample, pre-pro, costing sample,
Explanation: This sample reflects all of the desired construction details and is used to solicit contract sewing bids (CM&T). It is called sew by because contractors use this sample to create a costing or pre-production sample. Again, ideally the prototype sample is also a sew by. Particular care should be taken in designating a sample as a sew-by because for better or worse, the quote will be built on this. If one is producing domestically in house, the prototype sample should be the sew by for in house use to make sales samples. It is in sales sampling that the pattern is proven and final costs calculated.
Sample name: Pre-production
Synonyms: pre-pro, P/P, costing sample, counter sample, salesman’s sample, sales sample, duplicates
Explanation: 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 production sew by. Ideally, pre-production samples (salesman’s samples) are used to pre-sell the product.
Sample name: Photo sample
Synonyms: model sizes, flat samples, editorial samples
Explanation: These samples are made in smaller sizes for photo shoots intended for editorial and marketing, previously a size 4 but these days maybe a size 0. This may not be necessary if you can pin a garment strategically on the model. If you intend to shoot flats, you may need to cut the smaller size because it’s hard to get close enough to fit garment attributes in the frame. Some people know they will need smaller sizes for photography so they use this as their base size. Please don’t do that.
Sample name: Salesman’s samples
Synonyms: duplicates, sales samples, selling samples
Explanation: Ideally the pre-production sample above can be used for sales and marketing. You would have duplicates of the approved pre-production or production sample made for each party. Domestic producers should prioritize the making of the sales samples as the test production run.
Sample name: Show sample
Synonyms: showroom sample, merchandising sample, salesman’s sample
Explanation: Primarily intended for showrooms (but not exclusively) that market directly to editorial (fashion editors etc), you may need to have photo samples as above and for the same reasons. You may also need the mid range size for retail buyers who stop by. Confer with your showroom as to their preferences.
Sample name: Sizing samples
Synonyms: size run, size set
Explanation: Sample lot production of a style in all the intended sizes. Ideally you design sizes to target your customer profile early on in product development. This may not be possible if your silhouettes vary greatly between styles, meaning you will need to test sizes of various styles.
Sample name: Production sample
Synonyms: counter sample, spec sample
Explanation: This is the final approved version of a style produced by whomever is doing production. Often a production test run is done and the output is gauged for quality and the samples ideally used for marketing, promotion, pre-sales and perhaps trunk sales. The quantity of units produced will vary from one to a percentage of the intended production lot size. This can be very expensive if the run includes all colorways and sizes.
Sample name: Top of production
Explanation: A TOP sample is pulled from the first production run (above).
Sample name: Ship sample
Synonyms: shipment sample, fulfillment sample
Explanation: A sample that reflects what buyers will receive down to QC, folding, tagging, bagging, pre-packs (if applicable), labeling and final packaging included.
You should always keep a final approved sample in house as a means to verify production results. It shouldn’t be loaned to anyone. In effect, your production counter sample should be the final sample but your contractor may use it in production as a sew by so you will need two.
Revised or Revision Sample
A revised sample is any kind of sample that is a correction of an earlier sample that was not approved. If a revised sample is approved, it would become known as whatever kind of sample it is intended to be.
In the broadest sense, a counter sample is akin to a counter offer and is produced by a full package service or sewing contractor. The underlying theme being that the counter sample reflects the contractor’s execution of what they perceive your expectations to be for whatever kind of sampling you’re doing at the time. Technically, a counter sample could be a prototype sample, pre-production, could become a sew-by for production, size run or whatever other kind of sample. As a practical matter, it is most often a pre-production or production sample used for costing. Ideally, it should be the final version. WYSIWYG
As you can see, samples are all over the map so product samples may not be typical of a designer’s usual output. Samples can be a good buy (especially if they’re really a production over run) but buyer beware. Previously, most sample sales were held by salesmen who were selling off the previous line’s samples in order to recoup their purchasing costs.
Sample plan or sampling plan
Tieing this together with my opening, you’ve read of three categories of samples, namely design, sales and production. Design samples test design interpretation and readies the pattern for production. Sales related samples test buyer acceptance. The last type of samples have the purpose of testing application and consistency in production. Firms with large production runs have dedicated programs to test lots using mathematical formulas. These are called sampling plans. I’ve written about sampling plans in a context for smaller companies in Quality Control and SOW pt.1 and Quality Control and SOW pt.2 if you want to know more.
Summary: As anyone will tell you, sampling can be costly if not managed well. Most small companies don’t need this many nor of each kind. If I haven’t bored you senseless and would like a breakdown of sampling suggestions appropriate for given scenarios say, small domestic manufacturer versus small outsourced manufacturer and even as compared to larger firms, let me know in comments.
PS. If anyone wants to know, yes this was a necessary “homework” post that took longer than you’d imagine to write it.