What do samples cost?

sewing_moneyKeeping 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

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  1. Very timely piece!

    Somehow, new entrants to this industry assume that because they are launching an apparel company as a side project, WE (the factories making samples) are doing this as a side project too when in reality we are only able to keep our doors open for as long as we can stay in BUSINESS in full compliance of the law
    So hard for people to understand that there is more to samples than just the people doing the cutting and sewing…

    1) What about the person logging in your materials and keeping you updated on the status of your order?
    2) What about the person doing a fabric allocation to make sure we actually got enough fabric to get started or the person who notifies you that your vendor shipped the wrong fabric?
    3) What about the person overseeing the sample sewers who has to put time into fixing what the “expert” hired to produce Technical Packages didn’t know anything about industrial garment construction and now we are supposed to just “make it work”?
    4) What about the person preparing reports with suggestions for changes that would lower you production costs?
    5) What about the person preparing the operation/time cost analysis on your sample so that you can get the best production cost?

    I have to wonder, how is it that anyone claiming to “care about socio-economic impact” would not expect to pay people for their work in accordance to the law?

  2. Lucia says:

    From my short experience in the garment industry so far (first collection as designer and manufacturer out, second in tow):

    – We work on a prototype together with our pattern-maker. I´m hiring an independent pattern-maker who also offers prototyping services: makes the patterns, cuts them in-house (in the actual fabric or, mostly, in a mock-up) and gets them sewn-on by her seamstress. We try them on, make changes and, finally, come with a final prototype + pattern. For the sewing of this proto i get charged as if it was a garment made by a seamstress. Cost per hour of the seamstress work, more or less.

    – This prototype is then sent to our contractor, together with the pattern and the actual fabric. She will then have made as many samples of each style as i request. We are making 6 sample collections (4 for selling, 1 for keeping in-house for reference, 1 for publicity, samples, etc. ) so 6 samples of each style are required, usually in different color options. For this first samples i´m charged the actual production cost per double. Then i can re-negociate the production costs depending on the quantities i´m ordering, so the actual sample cost turns out to be more than double the production cost in the end.

    – After selling season, we start with the grading: my contractor does it in-house. I believe this is best than having our pattern-maker do it then sending it to the contractor. This way they can control this themselves and make sure it works for them. After the grading they would do the pre production samples in the actual fabric that would be used for production: we try different sizes in this pre production samples so that we can test the gradings. I´m not charged for this pre production samples and they don´t usually charge for them in the country i´m manufacturing in (Portugal), as long as you provide your sew-by of course.

    So i´m getting 3 different kinds of samples made of each style at this stage in my bussiness. Surely i´ll need more if it gets to grow larger!

  3. Gisela says:

    Wow, somtimes I forget the great process of production! It’s been ages since I was a production manager & reading your always super informative article it reminds me that if things are not done properly you will spend allot of unnecessary cost!

  4. Carlie says:

    I am as green as green can be. Kathleen, I have bought your book, read it, and follow your blog. Both have taught me a lot. Let’s say I have a very healthy respect for the industry and I understand I have a long way to go. Having said that, I also realize that at some point I just need to start!

    Before I bought your book I had approached a local seamstress, and though obviously very talented at her craft I was obviously needing a different service than what she provided. The understanding was there and confirmed in your book.

    Can you clarify something for me? Here’s a simple scenario; I have a concept. Say I have only one item to start (apparel), and it’s one size fits all. This item I would like to market and sell online.

    If I am going to hire a local contractor to do everything ‘inhouse’, pattern/sample/production, what do I need to approach him/her with? In your book it says I would need to present a sample so they could figure sewing costs. Which puts me back to square one, wondering how I would get that sample made.

  5. Steven Beltramo says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    Great article, very informative. I have purchased a material I am very happy with and would like to make it into a long sleeve button up. I have been calling and talking with tailors and they normally quote me at $65 per shirt. Where should I be looking? I believe that price is a bit high and would really appreciate some help

    • Avatar photo

      Is this for a personal item for you or do you plan to start a business selling finished product? If it is for you personally, I think $65 is a great price. You don’t go to a tailor with the idea of paying a lower price over retail. You go to a tailor because you want something special that you can’t get off the rack.

      If on the other hand, you plan to go into business, you shouldn’t be going to a tailor. //fashion-incubator.com/archive/why-you-shouldnt-hire-a-tailor-to-make-your-first-designs/

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