How to Find a Sample Maker That Shares Your Vision
An apparel sample maker creates finished versions of the final product, and in the process, they (hopefully) discover the flaws, errors, and oversights that could otherwise have spoiled entire production runs.
They’re also discovering the techniques, materials, and skills that your manufacturer will need to produce your garments commercially. Sample makers eliminate costly surprises and delays at every stage of production.
Ideally, your sample maker should be a collaborator, not a contractor: they should be able to work with you to fulfill your creative vision or commercial plan, not just sew to order.
How Does a Sample Maker Work?
Most apparel sample makers work for fashion companies, though some are freelancers or contractors.
Stages of sample making
Sample making usually follows a multistage process designed to prepare the manufacturer to make a commercial run of the designs.
Sometimes called ‘first prototype,’ or ‘first proto,’ these are initial builds of the garment from the pattern to ensure that it fits together and makes sense.
Fit samples, sometimes called sew samples, are made from generic materials and are created to test the accuracy of your patterns, letting you see a garment on a model and check the shape and design is right.
Sales samples are made with the same materials as the final product. Consequently, they’re more expensive and take longer, but give you and your manufacturer a lot more valuable information.
Size runs are sales samples across the sizing range of your garment, so you can see how your garment scales across the size range and identify any issues.
Pre-production samples double-check production processes, tools, and methods before the full range is made by the manufacturer.
What information does a sample maker need from you?
Many sample makers and manufacturers won’t take an order without a tech pack, containing a bill of materials describing everything that goes into the garment, including buttons, thread, and fabric, as well as a 2D technical sketch, a measurement table, and a label file.
However, there’s more to a garment than its technical specifications. Sample makers can help you more if you involve them more, and good ones will want to know about your brand and your audience. They may even have suggestions to make things go better on the catwalk or at the trade show.
How to Find the Right Sample Maker for Your Brand
There’s no sure-fire way to find a sample maker who shares your vision, which is why you’ll often find pattern makers and sample makers working together with designers long-term — when you do find a good fit, you want to keep them. However, these pointers can help.
Ask for Examples of Past Work
Most sample makers will have a portfolio that you can view, feel, and examine. Ask if you can see the original patterns too, and look for fidelity to the pattern and clarity of execution.
Sample making happens relatively late in the life-cycle of a new line, where there’s already a lot at stake. The sample maker you’re looking for will respect that, and they’ll know why you have a ton of questions. They might even preempt you by volunteering information.
Request Current and Past Clients
Most sample makers will happily provide information about the brands they’ve worked with. You might want to look for a sample maker who has worked with brands with a similar vision to yours, or a similar audience. Alternatively, you might be looking for a missing puzzle piece, a sample maker who can bring experience from outside your niche to the table.
What Materials Do They Work With?
Sewing isn’t just sewing. Sample makers often specialize in fabrics, or in clothing types that require specialist fabric-handling skills and equipment. Leather and high-weight denim are notorious for requiring specialist equipment — neither can be sewn at all with standard sewing machines and needles.
However, other fabrics, from the very thin to the very sheer, can also require special handling. If you’re creating a collection from lace and full-grain horsehide, make sure you find a sample maker with a track record of handling both successfully.
Remember it isn’t just a question of sewing the garment; a skilled sample maker will understand what you’re trying to achieve with the fabrics you’ve chosen and collaborate with you to improve your patterns.
Get a Pricing Estimate and Agree Payment Terms
Ask for a clear pricing estimate, and agree payment terms in advance. You don’t want surprise additions to your bill. Experienced sample makers will be upfront about pricing, have an established payment process, and be able to explain any extras or fees.
What’s the Lead Time for Sampling?
Sample makers can normally give you clear information on their lead time because they know this clarity is crucial to their business as well as yours.
Some sample makers will offer rush rates — much faster delivery, but with a commensurately higher price tag. It’s usually better to fold their standard workflow into yours if you can.
Share Your Vision Clearly (With Sketches)
The more prepared you are when you start working with your sample maker, the better. If you already have patterns and a tech pack, they can give you clearer guidance and shorter lead times.
As a rule of thumb, smaller runs can get away with less stringent planning. But you should come to meetings with your sample maker equipped with every possible aid to their understanding of your vision, audience, and process. Again, it’s a collaboration; help them help you.
How To Request Clothing Samples
Most large design houses will bring sample makers into their process permanently. Very small boutique designers may produce samples in-house using their design team. And there are many freelance and contracting sample makers, each with their own way of working. Some are just an email and a tech pack away.
For emerging designers, we offer a process that starts with an in-person consultation and can supply tech pack elements, advice, and skilled sewing and collaboration.
For established designers, we start later in the process and focus more on working with in-house teams to handle overflow and surprise projects, as well as handling 4-6 major collections a year end-to-end, including sampling.
We also create customized programs for specific needs such as quick turnaround and production or special project orchestration, and sampling might be part of those processes.
To learn more, contact us with your requirements and we’ll be happy to discuss what we can do together.
How Much Does it Cost to Make a Clothing Sample?
There’s no standard pricing for clothing line samples, but you can apply rules of thumb. Sew samples are usually very low cost, while sales samples are typically about two to five times the production price of the garment.
With highly-detailed tech packs and patterns, prices for sales samples will be lower; without these crucial details, sample makers are forced to estimate their own costs, potentially increasing the price you wind up paying.
Remember that you may have a designer, a pattern maker, multiple manufacturing sites, or contractors — and each will want access to your sample. If you don’t have enough to go around, you’re creating a bottleneck in your process.
If you develop a good working relationship with a sample maker, the price you pay will fall. If they’re working in-house at your manufacturer, you might find you get your samples for free, meaning their price is bundled with your manufacturing prices.
Looking for a Sample Maker in Los Angeles?
Working with someone in your city makes a ton of sense. No transferring samples around the country by potentially-unreliable courier or hiring delivery, and face-to-face meetings whenever you need. Or maybe you’re basing your search on LA’s reputation as a fashion industry powerhouse — which it is, believe us.
The Evans Group has been creating samples and custom projects for an international clientele for over 15 years, and we’ve been doing it right here in LA. We provide flexible scheduling to meet the overflow needs of established boutique brands like Jonathan Simkhai and have helped guide new designers to realize their creative vision.