Keeping in mind that there are many types of samples –at least 13– today we’ll revisit the cost of samples you contract to have made that represent your vision. Speaking of, there are at least 3 good reasons why you should pay for samples (a good post judging from how many times it’s been plagiarized) instead of getting them “free” -because they really aren’t. And sure, it’s an expense but it would be disastrous to contract for sewing without the contractor making a sample first. Heck, ideally you’d arrange to have samples made by two or more contractors since that is the only way you can compare quality and pricing. The only exception I can think of is private label and then we wouldn’t be having this conversation since private labelers will often send free samples because they’re not executing your unique designs anyway.
Culling from the 13 kinds of samples post, you could expect to pay for all the sample types if working domestically, except for maybe the muslin. The latter depends. This means that you’ll pay for protos, pre-pros and production samples. You shouldn’t feel that you’re being targeted because you’re new or not a famous name because pretty much everybody pays -at least domestically. Besides, garmentos who’ve been around, know that many celeb types don’t pay their bills- which is a good reason to not waste your time trying to impress people because you may be convincing -to your detriment.
Returning to the subject at hand, what do samples cost? Aside from the costs of materials you provide and not including the pattern making itself, you’re on the hook for cutting and sewing time. So if you’re new, how might you figure that out? Perhaps a ball park idea can be gleaned if you’ve done some cutting and sewing yourself. Generally, cutting takes the longest and can be an inordinate part of the total cost as I explained in Sample cutting and sewing costs:
Typically, a lined coat pattern can take 8 hours to draft […]. It is typical for cutting to take half that time and then sewing, if you have someone very experienced at it, can take two to three or maybe even 4 hours depending on the level of finishing (hand stitching, pressing) required.
So maybe you can guesstimate by asking friends who sew if you don’t, how long it would take to sew something. If they are enthusiasts, you should halve their sewing time. Then you’d double that figure to come up with the cutting time. For example, if your friend says it would take her five hours to sew something, it might only take an experienced professional 2 or 2.5 hours. Cutting time could very well be five hours but perhaps a bit less.
To come up with a final guesstimate, you’d also have to have the contractor’s shop rate. Maybe he or she won’t tell* you but most will. Shop rate varies by area of the country, experience, but also amenities. A shop rate of $30 is the lowest I know of (my shop rate as it happens) but $40-$85 is more typical. Also, this is for sewing and cutting -not pattern work- so please don’t misquote me.
Here’s a recent example I had. The customer could sew the item in five hours. From this she extrapolated an estimated cost of $75 for sewing. Unfortunately, she calculated $15 per hour for sewing… I don’t know anybody with a business location who pays wages, with such a low shop rate. I did the math. Even if the contractor paid minimum wage, he’d only make $50 per stitcher, per month, over and above whatever it cost to employ the person. I guarantee that if you’re only paying a $15 an hour shop rate for sewing, there is no need to hop on a plane to verify working conditions at the plant because it will be a sweatshop -meaning, illegally operating.
In the end though, the customer’s estimate wasn’t too far off because while the shop rate was a bit more than double what she calculated ($35 per hour for my contractor), it was only going to take half the time she figured to sew it. Before I forget, this figure didn’t include cutting. The cutting of her product was the make or break it proposition of her product line because it required the most labor intensive aspect -single ply only (leather). The cutting is being jobbed out to another contractor who is doing it with a CAM cutter. I think his shop rate is $40. Her cutting cost will be about $20-$30 which isn’t bad at all. To do it manually, it would take a minimum of 4 hours but probably closer to 6 considering the number of marking groups (shell/self, lining. contrast, fusible -making for 4 separate cuts).
Again, this is all for samples, not production. If you wanted to guesstimate for production, you can usually halve the sample costs (I can go into cutting costs for production further down). Now, halving the sample cost for production isn’t always accurate. The reason is, the contractor may really want the job so he or she has priced the sample low. In the case of my customer above, she was getting the sample at the cost of production. This isn’t very common because a new customer is unknown territory. If you’re polite, prepared, and pay promptly, you’ll get the best prices. If you’re a jerk and slow pay, contrary to my usual practice, even I will run the timer every time I talk to you or compose an email.
Here’s another example -this is just so you can get an idea of the range of acceptable practices. Another customer has a simple product but the customer is high needs. By that I mean that she has (from our perspective) abdicated from the process, expecting us to pick up the slack. Those situations are kind of a hassle. The contractor (a different one from the above) is charging her a shop rate of $85 per hour with a one hour minimum. That covers cutting and sewing. We’ve done the cut and sew here so I know that cutting and sewing one item is about 20 minutes if we’re taking our time and in no particular hurry. Unfortunately for my customer, the contractor has a one hour minimum (as do many) so she has to pay $85 for a sample even though it takes less time than that. For production, the customer is paying $8 for cut and sew. Again, this is a dramatically different scenario so you shouldn’t calculate your production costs as being 1/10 the sample cost.
To sum up: sample cost equals the shop rate times however long it takes to cut and sew the item.
*I’m going to digress a bit in closing with respect to shop rate. I had one customer to whom my contractor would not quote his shop rate. The customer was a pain in the patootie. In part, he changed product specifications after the pattern was made, fabric cut and was already being sewn. The other thing was his manner, he treated us like servants -or rather, like the teenagers he was supervising at his day job. Lastly, getting him to pay was crazy. The check was always getting lost in the mail and he was so pushy. Then he expected job #2 to run right on schedule even though job #1 still wasn’t paid for.
Oh, before I forget, I remind you that it’s usually a bad idea to hire a custom seamstress or corner tailor shop to make your mock ups. It costs quite a bit more than hiring a contractor and the work will have to redone anyway. Really, do read that post; this isn’t a push for the Full Employment Act of Sewing Contractors. The last benefit of hiring the contractor is that you’ll get a price quote for production which the aforementioned can’t give you.
A sample cutting tutorial (forum)
The 13 different kinds of samples
3 reasons you should pay for samples
Sample cutting and sewing costs
Sample cutting and sewing costs pt.2
Sample cutting and sewing costs pt.3