The ultimate goal for any business is to generate sales that will fuel the company’s growth and generate profit. For most fashion brands, sales largely depend on having a great product that sells in volume. While one can argue that the success of a product depends on the style and what the demand is for it, another largely undervalued aspect is the quality of the product. A great product poorly executed will not sell in any notable volume.
To ensure a well executed and manufactured product, it is the designer’s responsibility to provide the correct final sample and supporting documents like a spec pack to the factory. Setting the right expectations and choosing the right factory for your product is preparing for manufacturing success.
Making a perfect garment sample good enough for the factory to follow through to production, can be approached in three ways.
Whichever way you choose, your final outcome is to produce items to a very high standard so that they can be used by a factory as a template for your production.
1. Making your own garment sample
One of the first options is to make a perfect garment sample yourself.
If you’re talented and have the experience and skills to design, pattern cut and sew, then this will be your cheapest option in terms of financial outlay.
It’s important to remember that any items made by yourself must be absolutely perfect otherwise even minor errors could impact the overall appearance and fit of your future factory-made products.
Some points to consider include:
- Ensure that your ideas are refined enough to allow you to make the jump to a 3-d product.
- Your technical drawings must be clear and detailed as this will enable the production of useable patterns.
- Determine your sample sizes. Firstly, samples are used for fittings so must conform to the industry standard of a size 10 or 12. Secondly, your patterns will be graded both up and down to achieve a good fit in all of your desired sizes. Understand your brand’s perfect customer profile of your chosen size as not all garments in size 10 or 12 fit the same way.
The toile does not have your brand-specific trims but does use your fabric. This gives you the opportunity to find flaws and fix them from the beginning.
Advantages to making your own garment sample
More control over the development process
As the designer, you know exactly what the end result should be, but this process takes time and effort to get right.
If you’re doing this yourself then you can keep tweaking the items until you’re happy with the improvements.
Use a friend or acquaintance to try items on as you’re developing things.
Reduced carbon footprint
Producing in your studio lessens the impact of constantly travelling to a factory that may not be local to you as well as shipping multiple iterations of a sample back and forth.
One of the most expensive parts of creating a product or range of items is the prototyping stage.
It’s usual for designers to produce up to three prototypes of the same style design. These can include the following:
- The PROTOTYPE/toile is produced to determine the fit of the garment. This sample does not have your brand-specific trims but does use your fabric. This gives you the opportunity to really find the flaws and fix them from the beginning. Producing this sample allows you to see your design in three dimensions. Rough prototypes or first prototypes do not typically include extras such as pockets and trims. It is purely to allow you to focus on construction. Design details such as epaulettes, chest pockets or other details are sometimes drawn onto the fabric. Once you are happy with the fit of the garment, create patterns for pockets, linings and waistbands and sign them off.
- Use the factory to produce the other two samples which include a SELLING SAMPLE and a PRODUCTION SEALED SAMPLE.
Fashion sampling can be a tricky process at first but if your garment sample is made to perfection then your apparel production will be a smooth sail.
Disadvantages to making your own garment sample
Differing construction methods
It’s not unusual for factories to want to produce their own set of patterns, especially in regards to small leather goods and handbags. This could mean that you find yourself paying for a new set of patterns that in your opinion are perfect.
Don’t take this personally as the pattern can be considered as a ‘signature’ that’s unique to every factory.
In addition to this, personal notes are made by the factory’s pattern cutter, on the pattern to aid construction.
Your level of skill, while great may not be great enough when it comes to the factory level of production.
You may find that the factory will have to make improvements which could be expensive, or worse – copy your imperfections for the entire production run. To add to the problem, the fault would be traced to you providing an imperfect sample as a manufacturing template.
2. Calling in the professionals
Your second option for making your perfect garment sample would be to consider using a pattern cutter and seamstress to interpret your designs.
This could be the perfect route for you if you have no experience of pattern cutting and sewing. If you choose this option, finding a pattern cutter can be a blessing since they have experience of pattern creation that corresponds to your particular niche. There is no point employing someone who specializes in pattern cutting for lingerie when you’re producing outerwear as the two skill sets are very different.
The same applies when looking to select a seamstress. Seamstresses who produce leather items, for example, will not be confident sewing fine silk chiffon products.
In regards to patterns for bags and accessories, present the factory with the first pattern and let them make any amendments if needed.
Advantages of using professionals
The fashion industry is very personal and everyone knows someone useful to recommend or ask for a referral. Use your network to find tried and tested professional or search online specialist directories.
Documenting how the product should be executed is vitally important as part of the proper process of achieving a professional end product.
Your pattern cutter should be able to produce a measurement chart for you as a matter of course and will update notes during the development and fitting of products.
Your seamstress would be able to tell you the right terminology for finishing detailing so that when you compile your spec pack you describe properly how you want the product to be made.
Your pattern cutter will create your first pattern and amend it through the development stage.
The final garment sample set should include all elements that make the final product as per the design and include lining, facing and fusing patterns should they be required. In regards to patterns for bags and accessories, present the factory with the first pattern and let them make any amendments if needed.
Once you’re happy with the first pattern, your pattern cutter should be able to grade it to a larger selection of sizes for you. If they don’t offer this service you can either find an independent pattern grading service or ask the factory to do it prior to starting your production
The disadvantages of using professionals
Freelancers usually charge an hourly rate so costs can add up if the pattern cutter and seamstress oversee all of the development.
Professionals are likely to be busy with other projects, so make sure that you book time for their services so that all work is done by its due date.
The most important item the factory will need from you is a professional pattern.
3. Using a CMT or Fully Factored factory
The third and in many ways the best option would be to go directly to a factory and select the fully factored option and have prototypes and garment sample made there.
This would suit someone who has no experience in the industry and no idea where to begin.
This third option is the most expensive one as in some respects the factory will be undertaking the sourcing of fabric and trims, the development of patterns and toiles and the creation of specs and tech packs.
You should also consider their minimums as they may be quite high.
If you choose a factory that offers a cut-make-trim (CMT) service they will expect you to provide a number of things prior to producing the selling sample.
The most important item the factory will need from you is a professional pattern. It must be well made with seam allowances clearly marked, grainlines drawn on, notches in the correct places and with as much annotation to enable the factory to interpret your design. All facing and lining patterns must also be included.
Along with the pattern be sure to include a spec sheet. Your spec sheet should include a flat drawing of the front, back, side and detail views of your product. Full annotation including arrows and notes explaining construction details, stitches per centimetre, edge or contrast stitching as well as fastening placement and zip length measurements.
Related Reading: How to easily create a spec sheet
A list of materials and notions must also be present on the spec and don’t forget to take the fabric you want the samples made in with you. Items such as fusing, stitching thread and bindings may be supplied by the factory. If they’re bespoke or special order products with unusual colours you may have to provide them yourself so it’s worth checking with your point of contact at the factory.
The advantages of using a factory
Under one roof
Having everything produced in one locality is easy to manage and allows seamless communication between yourself and the factory management. Furthermore, it means that as they develop the sample and cost it properly, they would have all they need in order to make the production as perfect as can be for you.
The factory will have a team of makers including pattern cutters, technical team members and seamstresses who will all work together on your products.
Fully factored factories are great at offering competitively priced materials, trims and notions for your production needs. Their purchases are in bulk and they usually pass on the savings to their customers.
The disadvantages of using a factory
If your factory is not local you will find yourself spending vast amounts on carriage or transportation. Checking the progress of your samples and eventual production is very important.
These will usually be quite high. Sample production prices are charged at a production price plus 50%. This enables the factory to recoup their losses should you choose to go elsewhere for production
Whichever method you choose to make your perfect garment sample, remember that your products will only be as good as the quality of your final sample, patterns and spec pack.
Take your time and prepare, because as the saying goes: “…if you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.
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