One of the most exciting things about working in fashion is seeing your designs come to life.
But what a lot of people don’t know is that there are many steps along the way to ensure the final product is exactly what you envision..
That’s why it’s SO important to get good sample makers as the sample-making stage could potentially make or break your designs.
So, in this article, I’ll help you find the right sample maker by clarifying their importance in the product development process, highlighting what qualities your sample maker should possess, and sharing a step-by-step guide + checklist on how and where to find them.
Whether you’re a freelance fashion designer, an upcoming fashion brand owner, or an existing fashion brand looking for a new sample maker, this guide is perfect for you!
Why am I qualified to write about this stuff? In my 15 years of experience in the fashion industry, I’ve journeyed from being an in-house designer, starting my own brand (yep!), to growing my freelance career to $100,000+. Now, with all the knowledge I’ve learned along the way, I want to help fashion designers (and PDs, TDs, etc.) like you make it in the industry.
A clothing sample maker translates a designer’s creative concept into tangible prototypes known as clothing samples. They may be responsible for several key tasks, starting with the development of patterns based on designer sketches or specifications in the tech pack, advising appropriate fabric and materials, and constructing the clothing samples.
Beyond mere construction, they also work closely with designers to achieve the perfect fit, making adjustments as necessary. Throughout the process, sample makers need to consider different aspects such as material suitability, stitching techniques, and fitting adjustments while creating the clothing samples.
Some sample makers are responsible for creating everything from the pattern to construction, but most of the time, sample makers are a team of people with distinct responsibilities where one person may be the patternmaker, another doing the fabric sourcing, construction, and so on.
Additionally, while most garment manufacturers have their own sample rooms with a team of sample makers, there are also cases where fashion brands and designers work with independent sample makers.
Finding the best sample maker doesn’t come easy, and some fashion brands and designers go through a bunch before finding the perfect match.
Here’s a list of qualities you want to keep in check:
Sample makers are at the forefront of turning your design vision into tangible products. Make sure that they can consistently deliver high-quality work, ensuring that each prototype sample produced meets the exacting standards of your design.
An experienced sample maker brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to your project, having worked with various fabrics, styles, and design challenges
Someone who’s good with working with woven designs might not be as good with making knitwear (but will say they are!). The easiest way to check is to ask for their portfolio, or simply samples of projects they’ve done in the past. If possible, you can ask for their previous clients and check their previous work yourself.
Pro Tip: Find sample makers who have previously worked with samples similar to your designs. You can show them your initial design sketch or even just a photo of a garment that’s close to your design and ask them to show you something similar they’ve made before.
Despite being highly skilled and with years of experience under their belt, having poor communication skills can cause a lot of headaches along the way.
A sample maker with strong communication skills makes your life easier by listening attentively to your design concepts, asking for clarification, and keeping you on the loop on the progress of your samples.
True Story: I once had a sample maker who just kept nodding along and agreeing during our meeting as I went through comments I had made in the tech pack. But when the revised sample arrived, none of the revisions were actually applied. This happens more often than you think, so make sure you get someone who ACTUALLY listens and can follow directions.
Creating clothing prototypes requires attention to even the tiniest details to achieve the perfect design. In addition to this, it’s common for a lot of revisions to come up after each round of garment sample review. So, make sure to find a sample maker that can follow through all these detailed specifications and revisions.
Besides quality, consider the sample maker’s efficiency and pricing structure. Look for someone who can meet your project timelines without compromising quality and who provides transparent pricing, helping you stay within your budget while delivering quality samples in a timely manner.
Quick reminder to also make sure to be fair with your pricing, as sample making is not a simple task. You can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $500 for a basic sample depending on the complexity of design, materials, and the location of your sample maker.
Remember, the price of creating a single sample will always be way higher than the price of a single piece from bulk production.
To cut to the chase – the answer is you DON’T always need a tech pack to work with garment sample makers. Some designers manage to create their first samples by communicating in detail, providing reference garment samples, or even photos of similar designs to kickstart the sample making process.
But while a formal tech pack isn’t always a must, constant communication and documentation is key when working without one. Make sure to keep track of all the notes and revisions, so everyone involved in the sample making process can be held accountable for their actions and things don’t just get lost or forgotten (It happens more than you think!).
Before you commit to a clothing sample maker, make sure to ask these questions:
1. What is your turnaround time?
This question lets you know how fast they can produce samples and help you plan your timeline accordingly.
2. Can I see some of your previous work?
You can check what types of products they’ve made before and their quality of work.
Similarly you can ask for references of people they’ve worked with before. Speaking with former clients gives an honest review of what working with them would be like.
3. What is your pricing?
Ask for a sample closest to your design and how much they charged for it. Make sure to also ask for pricing for revisions.
Make sure to ask if their rates are per sample or hourly and ask their schedule for payment, whether they charge upfront, post-completion, or even installment-based. These will be helpful for your budget planning later on.
Finding the right garment sample maker for your fashion design project is crucial (but can be tricky!).
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the process:
Clearly outline your project’s requirements, including the type of garments, quantity of samples needed, and any specific design details. This will make it easier for you to send out your instructions especially when you’re initially reaching out to several sample makers.
Determine the budget you have set for sample making. This will help you narrow down your options and find sample makers within your price range.
Reach out to prospective sample makers with a clear and concise inquiry. Include project details, budget, timeline, and any specific questions you may have.
Make sure to snoop around (A LOT) before committing to one so you can get a general sense of the pricing, turnaround times, and capabilities of each sample maker.
If possible, request samples of their previous work related to your project. Alternatively, ask for references you can contact for feedback.
Optional BUT highly recommended (if you have the budget for it), consider starting with a smaller, less complex project as a trial before committing to larger-scale work.
This gives you a clear reference of their workmanship, and more importantly their attitude towards work. Pay attention to how they communicate, take comments, and how efficient they are with work.
Once you’ve chosen the final sample maker, make sure all terms, including pricing, timelines, and ownership of designs, are clearly defined in a contract before officially proceeding.
If you want more industry insider insights, you can check out my podcast with patternmaker and designer Xochil Herrera Scheer of The Chicago Patternmaker. With over a decade of experience in the field, Xochil knows firsthand what it takes to help her clients get their designs from concept to production.
And if you’re on the lookout for factories in the USA, you can listen to my podcast interview with Kathleen Fasanella, a trained pattern maker with almost 4 decades of experience. In this podcast ep, we cover some strategies and tips on how you can snag manufacturers to make your clothing line. Kathleen is also the author of one of the best resource books in the fashion industry, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing.
Now that you have a clear vision of what to do, let’s explore some options on where you can find garment sample makers:
You can simply start by using search engines like Google to find a wide array of options at your fingertips. Don’t discount sites like LinkedIn or Facebook groups either where you can connect with people who may be able to make an introduction.
Keep in mind that these online resources offer a vast selection (that may not necessarily be all good!), so exercise caution and conduct thorough research before proceeding.
If face-to-face interaction is more your speed, fashion trade shows provide an opportunity to meet potential collaborators and various industry professionals. A great advantage of attending trade shows is the opportunity to physically inspect their work, making it easier for you to recognize their craftsmanship.
If you’re curious and want to learn more about this option, you can check out my Guide on Fashion Trade Shows.
Reach out to colleagues, industry contacts, and fellow fashion designers who may have experience working with reliable garment sample makers.
Consider joining relevant online forums and communities where members frequently share their experiences and insights regarding where to find reputable sample makers.
If you are in or near a city with a garment district, visit the area and inquire at local businesses, fabric stores, or sewing shops. Garment districts often have a concentration of skilled sample makers and related services. Exploring these districts can lead you to experienced and trustworthy professionals.
And remember, each source offers its own advantages and challenges so don’t limit yourself – explore as many options as possible!
Remember, the journey to finding the right garment sample maker may require time and patience, but the effort is well worth it.
These professionals will become your creative partners, translating your visions into reality through their expertise.
The key is to discover a sample maker who aligns with your needs, with whom you can communicate clearly, and who shares your passion for bringing your designs to life.