7 Stages of Apparel Samples

No matter how many books you read, your first season can be quite confusing, especially as a beginner. There are so many different steps and terminology to learn: tech pack, patterns, prototypes, pattern revisions, samples, more revisions, second samples. You might wonder: when does production actually start?

It’s easy to feel as though you have lost control (and quite a bit of money) throughout the sampling stage. I’m here to explain the different types of samples and how certain samples could serve multiple purposes in order to save on time and cost.


Preview of Samples

Apparel “samples” actually refers to a series of different items produced for different purposes during the development process. Note that each type of sample has alternative names.

  • » Muslin (a.k.a. dummy, mock-up, drape, prototype, proto)
  • » Fit sample (a.k.a. first sample, original sample, sample test garment, development sample, design sample, style reference, parent pattern)
  • » Sew-by sample (a.k.a costing sample, pre-production, pre-pro, P/P)
  • » Sales sample (a.k.a counter sample, duplicate)
  • » Photo sample (a.k.a model size, flat sample, editorial sample)
  • » Size run (a.k.a size set, sizing sample)
  • » Top of production (a.k.a TOP)

The Breakdown

You are probably confused at this point. Here is the breakdown of the different sample types I mentioned and how they fit into the pre-production process.

(1) Muslin

This is the very first concept sample, typically sewn in an inexpensive fabric. It’s a loose take of your design used to visualize an idea in three-dimensional form. A rough muslin typically excludes extras such as bags and trims  – it’s created for pure focus on construction. For some smaller brands, the muslin is also known as the prototype. This may go through multiple iterations of prototypes before you finalize your pattern.

(2) Fit sample

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This sample is created from your first pattern and used to ensure the desired fit of the garment. Muslins or prototypes are often used hand-in-hand as fit samples.


(3) Sew-by sample

Used by factories, this sample reflects all of the construction information needed to produce the style. Factories use this sample to estimate cost of production. Any changes to the design after a factory has reviewed a sew-by sample could mean going through the quoting process again. For a cost effective alternative, your finalized prototype could also be designated your sew-by sample.­

(4) Sales sample

This sample is sewn by your factory in order to prove the production costs along with the quality of assembly. You can then use this sample for marketing and presentation to buyers.


(5) Photo sample

This is self-explanatory. Photo samples are made to the size of model you are using for product photography. If you aren’t using a model for your lookbook or e-commerce imagery, it is still recommended that you have smaller size photo samples that can fit into into frame of the camera.

(6) Size run

These are a full suite samples made in each size that the style will be sold in, made to ensure appropriate grading of the style and the fit of each garment. One way to save a bit of money, in fabric and trimming as well as cut and sew costs, would be to produce every other size.

(7) Top of production

This set of samples is taken off the line during your first production order. The number of TOPs you receive is typically a percentage of the full production order in each variation, but this can get expensive. One way to save costs would be to keep your TOP percentage very low. For small batch orders, one or two garments per variation should suffice.

Why are Multiple Samples Necessary?

There are many reasons why it’s recommended to make multiple samples. You don’t have to cut them all at once. You may want just one prototype while you are working with your designer, but then order a new sample when you add another person to the chain.

Samples eliminate errors

We’ve all had a nightmare shopping experience in which what was advertised looked very different from what arrived in the mail. Maybe the arms fit strangely. Maybe the fabric began pilling unexpectedly after 2 washes. Samples allow you to minimize such issues before production begins.


Samples save time

You will likely have multiple partners in development and production: a designer, a patternmaker, each factory you plan to seek quotes from, photographers, buyers, and so forth. If you only have one sample, then each other partner will have to wait until they receive the sample from someone else. Having just one sample slows down an already long process, and if something happens to your sample along the way, then you are out of luck!

Real-life scenario

Say you have only one sales sample. It fits perfectly, and every detail is exactly how you want it. Your patternmaker needs the sample for pattern revisions, your potential manufacturer needs to use your sample for price quotes and sourcing, and you also have a buyer interested in your collection who needs to evaluate the samples. With only one sample in hand, are in a situation where each stakeholder had to wait their turn. You might slip to the bottom of their list of customers to get to.


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Create Your Samples

After you have put together your designs, check out Maker’s Row for nearly 10,000 factories with capabilities in sampling and production.

If you want detailed instructions through the pre-production and production processes, pre-register for our Prototyping 101, and register for our Production 101 and Sourcing 101 courses. Our Academy offers these educational guides for free! Over the duration of each course, expect a new lesson in your inbox each day.


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