Sample Makers Come in Many Flavors

If you’re on the hunt for a clothing sample maker, then you’ve probably already discovered that finding a sample maker is not quite as easy as it sounds. Why? Simply because there are about a million–ok, at least 13!–different types of samples. For many small fashion labels and startups, that’s just way too many. It’s unnecessarily confusing and can lead to a lot of frustration from both the service provider and the client.

What Does a Clothing Sample Maker Do?

Very broadly, a clothing sample maker is someone who makes/remakes a piece of clothing based on another sample or a design. Where exactly in the process they are doing this work is where the confusion lies. A sample maker who is taking ideas from the head of a designer and translating them into a physical garment is at one extreme end of the spectrum. At the other end is a sample maker who is using a tech pack and sample from the label and doing a production sample for a factory. These are often used for reference or to demonstrate to the client that the factory can, indeed, achieve the desired result. In between those two things are sample makers that may do any other variety of tasks. And the range of pricing is equally broad.

Let’s say for example that you have an idea for a new bikini design and you are looking for a swimwear sample maker to bring your idea to life. You have sketches, some inspo pics and a solid idea in your head about how it should look. Now you’re looking for a bikini sample maker. While it may seem like a fairly simple task to the newcomer, it’s really not. The sample maker needs to:
1) Interpret your desires
2) Rough out the design
3) Create a pattern
4) Fit the pattern
5) Make necessary modifications/revisions
6) Source & select final fabrics
7) Source & select all the various findings, such as buttons, zippers, etc.
8) Sew the final piece for the handover

Then, they have to repeat several of the steps for each graded size. That’s a whole lot of work!

All this has to somehow stand up to very tight scrutiny from the client. Often, to the sample maker’s frustration, the client expects to pay little more for the item than it would have cost on a store rack. Even at a per-sample price of a 3-5x markup from the manufactured cost (which is a fairly common sample price from a manufacturer), the clothing sample maker simply cannot afford to be doing so much of the front-end work for such a tiny amount of profit.

A client who is just starting out can’t really be blamed for this situation. If you haven’t been through it, then it can be hard to understand how it works. The client feels under-served and the provider feels underpaid. All the stress and disappointment is likely to be caused by one simple thing: the specific usage of the word “sample”.

Let’s Simplify!

To make things easier, let’s break it down a little bit and apply some new definitions. In our company, for easy communication with our clients, we use some different terms. We don’t use the term “sample” for all of the early designs. We call that process “prototyping”. Prototyping is one of the processes used in “product development”. So, as we develop a fashion product for a client we work through prototypes. If a client comes in with an early stage prototype of their own design, that piece becomes prototype v1. As we work through more prototypes, the number simply changes to reflect our progress. V1, v2, v3… and so on. In our nomenclature, Prototyping is part of the design process.

After, and only after, the prototyping process is completed, then we begin using the term “sample”. A sample then is a copy of a final prototype. This makes things simpler for both both of us. It would be unwise to create samples at a stage when the design is still unfinished. It would create duplicates of errors that have yet to be worked out. Once we have begun to use the term sample, then everyone has a clearer idea of the status of the item. Samples then are reference materials, not part of the design process.

Back to the Search

So, with that little adjustment, let’s start again. Are you looking for a clothing sample maker? Or, perhaps are you looking more for a product development service that can help you with prototyping your design? The further you can get in your own process will reduce the costs of moving forward. So choose carefully and be realistic about your needs.

Our services are located primarily in Bali, so we get quite a few clients looking for a clothing sample maker in Bali. Many of these clients are expecting full prototyping services for the very low price of a sample. They often assume that a tailor will work for their needs and of course the costs for an Indonesian tailor are very low. However, they quickly find out that it’s just a totally different situation than they were expecting. The tailor will simply whip out a copy or their best interpretation of the design and that’s it. Project finished. They are confused and frustrated when the client tries to make changes and doesn’t expect to pay for all the additional time. In the sample maker’s mind, they’re just making a single item to be worn. Their job isn’t to prepare a design for large-scale manufacturing.

Our advice, then, is to search for a service that best suits your actual needs and your realistic budget. If you’re on a tight budget, use the money you have to buy a sewing machine and learn to use it. You’ll save yourself a tremendous amount of money in early-stage fees. Or, find a clothing sample maker amongst your family and friends and work with them to perfect your prototype before moving to the next step.

If you have a business plan and some capital to invest, your best option would be to work with a fashion product development company, such as Prototype. A product developer will bring far more to the table than just a clothing sample maker. A good product developer will meet you where you’re at in your process and walk you all the way through to manufacturing. More spendy of course, but it’s a surefire way to be sure you’ll receive the help and services that you need to be successful.

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