What’s a prototype and when do you need one?

This is the first of two posts; I’ve had several questions over the past few days on a specific aspect which I’ll write about next.

Most of the question about what is a prototype can be answered in my book or in a post I wrote five years ago called Muslin, “muslins” & protos or in the post I wrote last year called the 13 different kinds of samples. I’m thinking we should revisit the subject since the word “prototype” is increasingly being thrown around in contexts that make little sense.

A prototype is an example of a style that uses the specified hardware and final fabrication. The construction should also be identical to specifications intended for the final product.

A prototype is not a dummy, mock-up, fit sample or first sample etc. Those sample types are common to the pre-prototype stages, the steps in your journey to get a prototype.

By definition, a prototype is a benchmark. As a benchmark, it is used for certain tests. Among other things, a prototype is a proof of:

  • the final interpretive word on design details and execution,
  • the proof of fabric and hardware allocation (yield or utilization),
  • and perhaps most importantly of all -the proof for costing purposes.

As I explained in the 13 samples entry (or maybe it was in my book), a pre-prototype sample can become a prototype by proclamation provided:

  • it fits the way you want it to,
  • it looks the way you want it to,
  • it uses the fabric and guts of the goods you intend to buy to make it
  • and lastly, it is sewn the way you want your production units to be constructed.

If you can’t affirm those four things, it’s not a prototype.

The other thing to keep in mind is that “prototype” is a fluid, evolving benchmark that is subject to change based on changing variables. For example, your fabric or hardware becomes unavailable. In this case, the prototype would be deprecated to “approved fit sample” or something like that. It can still be useful with value as a sew-by or something else but you will need another prototype that reflects the change in fabrication.

Next up: I have a prototype but I don’t have a pattern.

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  1. Eric H says:

    “If you can’t affirm those four things, it’s not a prototype.”

    The aerospace industry has a saying for this: “Test as you fly, fly as you test.” The reason for following this is that you don’t want any surprises either in production or in actual flight. There’s no telling how many crashes and (probably) deaths that can be traced to someone making a “minor” change between prototype testing and production which turned out in hindsight to be rather major changes.

  2. Andre' Tinsley II says:

    My Name is Andre’ D. Tinsley II and I was drawn to this site through my curiosity and interest in fashion. Looking at this site and viewing the information i think it a decent place to start with my inquiries, seeing that I have no prior knowledge or experience in the fashion industry outside of me drawing designs since a kid.

    First off I have yet to have any of my designs created and I wanted to know who renders these services in the metro Detroit area , i don’t know much yet so i would like to be at least pointed in the right direction. Secondly I would like to know if you could inform me of any fashion shows, fashion jobs, fashion network meetings, or any other things that I can participate in that you feel would help a fashion novice such as my self.

    Thank you for you time, Andre’ D. Tinsley II

  3. Avatar photo

    Hi Andre’. If you did know a lot about the industry, this would be an especially “decent” place :).

    As far as service providers in your area, have you tried searching? Dead tree phone books are actually better than online fwiw.

    Fashion shows… not my area. Fashion jobs, you need education and experience these days. Fashion networks, I don’t know of any locally which is not the same thing as saying there aren’t any because I know there are. I run one here.

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