The 13 different kinds of samples

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
Synonyms: proto
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
Synonyms: TOP
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.

Final Sample
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.

Counter Sample
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

Sample Sales
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.

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  1. Rocio says:

    I think the secret to keeping sampling cost to a minimum is to get a competent pattern maker involved from the earliest sampling stage

    A good pattern maker should be able to identify potential issues and offer suitable options before the first sample is even cut

  2. Your trade show where you take orders for the line is after the show sample, and before the sizing samples? As per your instruction that you don’t grade out a line until after you’ve found where the market is?

  3. Kathleen says:

    Rocio (who said):

    the secret to keeping sampling cost to a minimum is to get a competent pattern maker involved from the earliest sampling stage… A good pattern maker should be able to identify potential issues and offer suitable options before the first sample is even cut

    Yeah, well, that’s my point in my book. I know you know that. People don’t operate like this anymore, it’s all outsourced. If you’re not hands-on, it costs more to have to check up on people (who are at arm’s length) with excessive sampling and production costs. Unfortunately, these costs are rarely rolled into COGS (total cost of goods sold) so people think it costs less than it does -and in part because they probably think they’ll need similar if not costlier services domestically. If one is green, they haven’t developed enough discrimination to know which problems and excessive costs are related to poor engineering (nor how much of an impact those have) vs typical problems one would have as a matter of course, versus complications that are more likely in outsourcing relationships. For all these people know, there is no difference no matter where you do it so you may as well get it for the lowest price.

    I’m going through this now with my ex-step mom. Because she’s so new to computing, she doesn’t know the source of any problems. For example, she’s unsuccessfully tried to download an ebook. She doesn’t understand computing well enough to know if the problem is her operation of the unit (iPad), a bandwidth/connection or browser conflict issue or whether the failure is due to the given site or its coding. If she were at my elbow, it would be easy for me to help sort this out. At arm’s length (300 miles away), I can’t. It is the same for manufacturing. It’s better to learn from a source as close as possible. Once one knows more, they can more easily discriminate between issues that are specific to the pattern and production engineering side vs the conflicts more typical of an outsourcing relationship.

    I’m not saying people should never outsource only that doing it close by in the beginning provides useful lessons. And yeah, you’d learn those from afar but if you’re new, you don’t know which lessons are peculiar to the process itself (quality engineering) or which are due to outsourcing because you don’t have a body of knowledge or a point of comparison. [And I know you know all this, this comment is for visitors.]

    Carol: I reiterate

    I’m aware practices are all over the map these days but I have tried to cover every contingency… 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.

    Iow, my mention of given practices should not imply my endorsement of them.

  4. lloyd van der Linden says:

    Rocio (who said):

    the secret to keeping sampling cost to a minimum is to get a competent pattern maker involved from the earliest sampling stage… A good pattern maker should be able to identify potential issues and offer suitable options before the first sample is even cut

    Kathleen (who said):

    “Yeah, well, that’s my point in my book. I know you know that. People don’t operate like this anymore, it’s all outsourced.”

    Sampling to sewing:

    In my shop we do both, made to measure and have a sewing contractor sew one of our production lines. Made to measure are cut, fitted to a stage and then adjusted, more fittings if required therefore the final fit is accurate to the customer. On our production lines we adjust the pattern (11 measurements taken) and then check the fit of the cut before it goes to the sewing contractor. We are fortunate our contractor is a 5 minute walk away, ( I know not enough sustained cardio). I spent about 4 months developing my production patterns before turning on the production. After 6 years we have had 15 jackets per 1000 that did not fit, the 3 areas areas of concern that we learned were the measurement taker (1) ( measurements or transcribing), the cutter (2) or the contractor error (3). With each production jacket, the contractor is supplied with 3 measurements to monitor. I would highly recommend that the pattern, fitting and samples be carefully done in house. For those that don’t know, educate yourself, how can you be the most Knowledgeable informed person in the project, no one else will be as diligent as you are all it is your idea. As a note all of our work is in leather

  5. Xochil says:

    Thanks for this list, I’ll definitely point people here for reference! So many people interchange the types of samples when they refer to them (and I didn’t realize there were 13!), so this is good for getting us on the same page. Your “homework assignment” is greatly appreciated!

  6. Lauren says:

    I’m glad you posted this article because it brings up something I’ve struggled with thinking about for a while, specifically the ‘photo samples’.

    Now I’m assuming photo samples, made in a 0-2-4 whatever the designers inclination would also be the samples used for runway, which would usually need to be made before the close of sales (admittedly I know the shows are towards the end, if not the end of the selling period for the collections, but that aside…).

    Doesn’t this go against the rule of not grading until sales have been finalised and styles are definitely going into production? Or is there another way around this?.. I’m a little confused.. I know runway doesn’t come until later generally, I’m just banking on the fact that my fashion schools pays for the top 4 students to show at Australian fashion week… and although thats a while and lot of hard work away, it had me wondering…

  7. Shery says:

    Another name for your list – In several workplaces I’ve come across the nickname ‘first off’ for a production sample. It could just be an Antipodean thing though.

  8. Kathleen says:

    Lauren: yes this goes against the rule of not grading until sales are finalized. For higher end fashioney lines (who show at fashion week etc) it is unavoidable I suppose but then, this is a much smaller segment of the whole apparel pie and an associated cost of doing a bridge line. Ten years ago, fewer than 50 designers showed at NY fashion week; last season there were more than 150 to say nothing of fashion weeks held in most major (and not so major) US cities. [I wrote a whole entry about this but haven’t published it, maybe I will now.] Even companies that don’t show at fashion week are cutting smaller sizes due to the change in how products are marketed over the web. Do I think it is necessary? Mostly not (most do it because they think everyone else is or because they think they have to) but nobody listens to me.

    Shery: thanks and you’re right. I’ve heard “first off” too. I should add that to my list. I had to look up “antipodean” to know what it meant!

  9. Maura says:

    Is it possible for some big name designers to use specific labels for their samples in the final stages? I have recently come across a Valentino coat that has great detail and construction, even where a consumer would not normally notice quality in the details, yet the label is a little off in terms of the logo. I have plenty of experience with identifying fakes in the market but the quality and attention to detail of this piece and the egregious error on the label (the V in Valentino is an inverted A) doesn’t add up. Therefore, I was wondering if it could be a counter sample. Any help would be appreciated!

    • kathleen says:

      An excellent question -it could be a post. Can you elaborate on the problems as you perceive them? I know what issues are as a service provider but don’t know precisely how that impacts you.

  10. Marine says:

    Thank you for a very informative and useful list of samples. I would appreciate a breakdown of sampling suggestions appropriate for a small domestic manufacturer. Thanks.

  11. Faruque says:

    Excellent ! It’s really very informative and helpful. Do you have any study on sample sewers productivity. I am looking for some suggestion of making sample with high productivity.

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