Understanding the Sample Process

Knowing what you want and understanding how to get there are two very different things, as most of you would know. If you understand how the process works you are much better prepared for the journey you’re about to undertake. Not only will you have a better understanding of how long the process will take, you will also understand the industry language when talking to designers, patternmakers, garment technicians, manufacturers and suppliers.

There are four main purposes of a sample. 

1.      Initially, they translate the design idea into a 3D product. They are needed to critique the design, functionality and fit, as well as turn the idea into a practical garment that fits both the target market and price range of said target market. 

2.      Secondly, they serve as a tool that buyers can use to plan and gauge interest to help with pre-orders if you’re dealing with a wholesale market.  

3.      Thirdly, they are used to photograph to create marketing material such as catalogues, web images, social media posts, email marketing and look books. 

4.      Lastly, samples are needed to test consistency of production which in turn reduces errors and financial loss.

The sampling process can be structured in different ways and it is important to know that you may not need to create all of the following samples for your business.  Samples can be used in multiple ways which can reduce your costs. With a savvy garment technician/pattern maker and the right manufacturer you can reduce the number of samples and/or the need for size set samples. Once your team have formed a coherent working relationship you will find that you will require less and less samples.


Initial sample: Can also be called a 1st fit sample or proto sample. This sample gives the designer and team a first glimpse of the design concept as a garment. To minimise samples, fabric and fit will have been discussed with the designer, garment technician and manufacturer so that the sample can be assessed for silhouette, design lines, fabric, and fit. These samples may or may not be fitted on a live model, but when a live model is available it’s always best.

Muslin SampleA muslin sample is a specific type of first/proto sample that is made in an inexpensive woven fabric called Muslin (some may refer to it as calico). In general, ‘muslins’ are used to test the sewing sequence and pattern/fit before creating a ‘prototype’ in the correct fabric quality.  This type of sample is mainly made if you create your own in-house patterns and the label/brand is more specialised. This type of sample is not required when working with knit fabrics

2nd Proto Sample or Fit Sample: After alterations and amendments to pattern, construction, fabric and fit have been actioned the manufacturer makes a 2nd sample. These changes are now assessed on this sample to determine if any further modifications or future tweaking is necessary. This sample should always be in the correct quality. However if the sample is in the correct fabric and has the correct trims/hardware it can sometimes be treated as a pre-production sample (providing the fit an design are correct, or can easily be corrected).

Further Fit samples: Sometimes required but often avoided if design and fit is correctly assessed at the beginning.

Pre-Production sample (PP Sample):  This sample must be in the correct fabric and trims/hardware. In most cases it will also have all the correct labels and swing tickets. All the above samples are made by the sampling department. However, the PP sample should be made on the actual production line so that operators know what they are going to make.

This garment looks and feels like what the designer and team have been working towards and is needed in order to approve the overall look/fit of the garment. This sample, in many cases, will be the last sample the designer and team will see before signing off on bulk production.

The fabric and trims will be ordered based on the last fit sample. The only changes that can be made at this point are ones that will not affect the fabric consumption or trims/hardware.

Size set Sample: The purpose of the size set sample is to check the fit of the garment in different sizes. These sample sets are becoming less common as manufacturers these days are well trained and tuned into the needs of their target market and is an added cost that isn’t required.

The base pattern is graded and samples are sewn in various sizes of the size range. Generally, buyers ask for size set samples that jump sizes, like S, L, XXL or 6, 10, 14 to spot check grading for torso length, sleeve length and overall circumference. Adjustments can then be made prior to investing in bulk orders.

Rather than these samples being used to check grading before a production run, they may be used on ongoing repeat orders. Repeat orders are normally styles that are a basic line for a label/brand. They may wish to check that the style works and fits as its intended across all sizes or to tweak the style/fit so it caters for all or more sizes. They could also be used to check that their ‘fit size’ is still relevant when graded up and down to create smaller/bigger sizes.

Salesman Sample (SMS): Salesman samples are made to put on display in the retail showroom, given to traveling sales reps, and are used to take orders at trade shows.  Salesman samples are displayed to pre-sell the line and for assessing customer’s feedback. Based on buyer’s response, it can be used to forecast demand of a particular style. Salesman samples are made with actual fabric, trims and accessories.  

Photo Samples: These samples are sometimes made in smaller sizes than the ‘fit samples’ depending on the model’s size. These samples will be used to take professional photos intended for editorial and marketing as well as shooting flats for catalogue/web content.  It’s tempting to try to save money by making your base size the smaller photo sample size, however it will impact your fit if you do this. It’s best for your base size to be a mid-range size to grade properly so it fits all sizes.

Top of Production Sample (TOP sample): Once production is online, the first few pieces are taken off the production line. Production pieces are sent to buyer as TOP sample. Not all buyers ask for TOP sample. The purpose to request one is to cross-check whether the factory is following the PP sample specification or not. If not, there is usually time to catch the error and adjust the remainder of production to ensure the final product meets specifications.

Shipment Sample (KEEP sample): This is a sample that reflects what buyers will receive which will include how it is folded, labelled and packed. When the style is being finished and packed for shipment, 2-3 finished/packed pieces with all packing details are kept by the manufacturer and the designer/team for future reference. It serves as a cross reference should production yield problems that need to be communicated between all parties. 

The above along with our blob post 6 Things to Help Communications with your Manufacture will ensure you have a grounded understanding of what to expect as you step into the world of clothing production. We know what your next question will be and we have a blog post for that as well ‘How long does sampling and production process take?’

Katrina & Team x