How to Create Sample Clothing: A Guide for Emerging Designers
Published On: April 15, 2021
For an emerging designer, the process of creating sample clothing for your fashion line can be exciting, overwhelming, and challenging. For the first time as a designer, you’ll see your concepts come to life, ready to be worn by a model, photographed, and presented to potential retailers. Starting a clothing line from concept to sketch to the runway requires a methodical approach, so use this as your step-by-step guide to help get on the path to success.
Glossary of Common Terms for Sample Clothing
Before we get started, let’s review some common terminology used in the sample-making process. Manufacturers in the apparel industry refer to different stages of the process with these terms, so it’s important to get familiar with them before moving forward.
Also referred to as a first sample, prototype, or muslin, a mock-up is usually made from muslin, an expensive, lightweight, and easily adapted cotton fabric. At times, an idea on paper may not ideally translate to a physical design. You need to see your idea come to life, and the first muslin clothing sample is the way to do it. This stage is essentially a rough draft.
Also known as a sew-by sample, this pre-production sample helps the designer and manufacturer estimate production costs as a slightly more advanced version of the initial sample. This is also the stage where fabrics, materials, and textiles are tested.
This is also called a salesman sample because it represents the production process where the designer begins to present the samples from their clothing line to potential retailers. This is a more polished sample using fabrics and patterns as close to the finished product as possible.
Also called a size run, fit sample, or sizing sample, this is the part of the sample-making process that duplicates the design in several sizes to test for fit. A size set helps you iron out all the small details when it comes to sizing.
At this stage of the production process, sample clothing is being produced in fit sample sizes to be photographed for editorial and advertising purposes. These are as close to perfect as possible and can be used for producing the designer’s lookbook.
Top of Production
Also called TOP, this is the final stage of the product development process, where the patterns are finalized, and each piece of the clothing line is ready for scaling and production.
Step 1: Concept
As a budding fashion designer, sometimes it can be challenging to put your ideas on paper for others to understand. It’s vital to create a presentation that will fully capture your clothing line concept in a precise and succinct way.
Start by preparing drawings and conceptual outlines to ensure your ideas are illustrated as clearly as possible. Doing so will start you off on the right foot and allow the pattern maker and sample maker to estimate the cost and timeline for creating your samples accurately.
Budgeting Your Cost and Expectations
Budgeting is one of the most difficult parts of the sample production process. Before you discuss the production costs with your sample maker, you should ask yourself some questions. What’s a realistic budget that you can afford and also get the results you want?
Your budget will determine how many stages of production you will go through before your clothing samples are complete. It will also impact how large the clothing line will be and how intensive the development process will be for you and your sample manufacturer.
Have a number in mind before even starting the sample creation process but leave some room for flexibility if things turn out differently than expected, which is often the case in the development process.
Your First Consultation
Your first consultation with a professional in the apparel industry is uncharted territory. Go into your meeting with an open mind, and don’t be afraid to ask the manufacturer and pattern maker as many questions as necessary to feel like you have a clear sense of what they offer.
A few questions you probably want to ask include:
What’s their average turnaround time for a collection of your size?
How flexible are they with revisions?
Have they done anything similar in the past?
Do they have samples, lookbooks, or links to their previous work?
The question and answer process goes both ways. For example, be prepared to answer questions about your clothing line. Things like collection sizes, how many revisions you’d like, sample duplication, budget, and timeline.
The person you’ll be working with has likely produced dozens of collections. They’ll know the different types of samples you should produce, the realistic timeline of the project and the estimated budget to complete the sample collection.
Step 2: Sourcing and Development
You’ll begin to develop your concept through mood boards and swatches at this part of the process. This will help you find the perfect materials and manufacturers that fit your collection’s budget and creative vision.
The Power of Mood Boards
Don’t underestimate the importance of a good mood board. As a designer, you’re a visual communicator. Mood boards give you the capability to share your ideas with the other visual creatives you’re working with. In addition, mood boards convey art direction, color palette, texture, and materials to the pattern makers and manufacturers.
Milanote is a free online tool that allows you to create interactive mood boards to share with your team. You can upload images, use art that inspires the direction of the collection, add color swatches, notes, and more. It also has templates that give you a great jumping-off point.
The Process of Sourcing Textiles and Materials
From your mood board, you can move on to physical samples. Search in local fabric shops and craft stores to find fabric swatches that match the concept of your clothing line. This will give the sample makers inspiration throughout the development process as they’re sourcing textiles and materials for your collection.
In this stage of product development, the sample designers will present textiles for your clothing samples. Another perk of working within the apparel industry is their connections with manufacturers to source the best materials for your collection.
Creating Specification Sheets That Fit Your Brand
After you and the sample maker have decided on the textiles for your clothing samples, it’s time to create a specification sheet for each design. This is one of the most important steps as the spec sheet acts as a guide to the pattern makers as they begin the first sample. So whether you’re creating hoodies or ball gowns, you’ll need a specification sheet.
At this point, you can begin thinking about the different types of samples you want to create, the visual aspect of hang tags, and other details that are important in presenting a sample collection to retailers.
Step 3: Production
Once you reach the production stage, you’re close to the finish line of creating your clothing samples. At this point, your sample maker will guide you through mock-ups and revisions until your clothing sample is perfect. Again, attention to detail is crucial — your sample garments should be exactly how you’d like them to look on a model or in a store.
Determine the Size of Your Clothing Line
The size of your clothing line depends on your budget and timeline. If you’re rushed to produce salesman samples, you might need to pare down your collection. If you have a small budget but still need room for revisions throughout the production process, you may also need to make your collection smaller.
An average collection for an emerging designer can be anywhere between 5-12 pieces, depending on your concept and direction. For example, if you plan to have an independent e-commerce site to sell your clothing line, you’ll need at least 10-12 pieces to fill up the site and convey the direction and mood of your brand. On the other hand, you can have as few as five pieces to pitch to potential retailers.
Developing a Template for Duplicates
If you’re planning on pitching your samples to retailers, you’ll need templates for duplication. In addition, templates serve as a guide for manufacturers to turn the approved samples into a clothing line for scalability.
Templates are necessary for almost every clothing sample production project. Your sample maker will walk you through this process. Once you’ve approved the counter samples, it’s time to finalize the patterns.
Using Sample Size Sets to Pitch to Retailers
Now that your samples have gone from mock-ups to fit samples, where do you go from here? It’s time to use your sample clothing to get your brand off the ground.
You are ready to set up appointments with retailers to pitch your collection after the finalization process.
You should have your lookbook ready to present by now, so be sure to bring that along with your samples for presenting to potential retailers. If you’ve been thorough throughout this process, you’ll have beautiful samples that reflect the quality of your brand.
Emerge With a New Collection of Sample Clothing
Creating clothing samples as an emerging designer can be a daunting task, but it’s possible to achieve your dream with the proper guidance and partners. Knowing which steps to take will ensure your samples reflect the quality you want. Whether you start a clothing line for the runway or retail, planning is everything.
TEG has a sample clothing production program, especially for emerging designers. What’s more, TEG commits to sustainable and socially responsible labor and production practices. We’ll guide you through the exciting process of creating your first clothing line and set you on the road to success.
Our expertise provides high-quality creative services like fabric and trim sourcing that you won’t find elsewhere. Our top-of-the-line sourcing managers skillfully guide you through sampling fabric swatches, negotiating minimums and prices, tracking orders, and more.
Whether you’re an emerging or established designer, we’ve helped over 2,000 designers bring their visions to life during the last 15+ years. We’d love to help you, too!
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For all inquiries and questions, please call or fill out the below form, and we will respond within 1-2 business days. Thank you!