There are a lot of types of garment samples when manufacturing clothing. Each physical sample (or sometimes digital) serves a specific role in the apparel production process and helps ensure the finished garment is made right.
And while you likely don’t need every kind of sample, as a fashion designer (or technical designer, product developer, etc), it’s good to be aware of the various types.
We’ll cover what garment samples are, why you need them, and the stages of garment sampling. I’ll also go through the 12 types of garment samples for apparel production and which ones are required.
Let’s get into it.
Garment samples are physical representations of a design concept. They’re used to evaluate how a garment looks, feels, and fits. Garment samples also allow you to make modifications before production to ensure designs are made right.
While some samples may be fully functioning prototypes that accurately represent the final product, others may be rough. Often, they may not even be made in the actual fabrics or with the correct trims.
Tangible representation: Garment samples give everyone involved in the production process a clear idea of what needs to be produced.
Error detection: They allow you to identify potential issues with the design or construction process so they can be corrected before production.
Sales tool: Samples can be used as sales tools to make sure a design is worth manufacturing before wasting money on production.
Garment sampling and the entire sampling process can be broken down into 3 stages:
These are the 12 common types of garment samples during apparel production:
Yeah, it’s a lot of sample development! Good news is you likely don’t need all of them.
Pro Tip: Working remotely as a fashion freelancer? Lots of people wonder how to manage the sampling with clients. Here’s how you do it.
Fashion designers can create beautiful designs on paper, but they may not make functional garments. A mock-up sample is created as a proof of concept. It doesn’t need trims or findings, it’s just to see whether the design is possible.
Mock-up or muslin samples may be made in muslin. But they are likely made in a fabric with a similar weight and construction to the desired fabric. That’s because muslin is thin, woven cotton and a very different fabric than most real garments.
Once complete, a mock-up sample is used for pattern making.
Protos are usually made from the “closest available” or similar fabrics and trims.
Proto samples are reviewed by various team members (fashion designers, technical designers, product developers, etc) and comments are put in the tech pack. The factory will make a new proto with the changes, or “correct and proceed” to production.
Depending on the design, how long you’ve been working with a factory, and how established a brand is, you may need multiple protos to execute the design. Some designs can be finished with 1 development sample, and some garments may need 3.
Pro tip: Three or more protos can be a red flag: poor patternmaking, problems at the factory, ineffective technical designer / product developer, wrong fabric, choice, or something else.
Digital garment samples are computer-generated 3D models of a design. They may be created in Clo3D or some other specialized fashion software.
Digital or virtual garment samples are an opportunity for designs and manufacturers to visualize designs without having to create multiple physical prototypes. It can save tremendous time and money in the apparel production process.
This garment sample’s main purpose is to ensure the design fits well. It can be fit on a dress form, but it should also be fit on a real body.
Fit samples can also be made in “closest available” or similar fabrics and trims, but be careful. Any change in production fabric vs the “closest available” fabric (ie more or less stretch) can impact fit. I would never proceed to production without fitting a sample in actual bulk fabric!
(A proto / development sample can also be used as the fit sample.)
A size run or size set is a sample in each size using the same fabric and trims that will be used in production.
A full size run for a size range of 0-12 would be every size: 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12.
A jump size set for a size range of 0-12 would be every other size: 0, 4, 8, 12.
Size Sets are essential to ensure garments grade (get bigger / smaller) and still fit well. Just because someone gets bigger around the waist, doesn’t mean the garment should get longer at the same rate!
A GPT sample is used for conducting physical and chemical tests on garments to ensure performance. Tests may include shrinkage, color fastness, seam performance, and more.
A third-party inspection company does garment tests. Results are sent to both the factory and design team / buyer for review.
If a style has multiple colorways, only one color sample needs complete testing. Other colorways only need to be tested for colorfastness.
Size set samples can also be used for GPT samples.
A Salesman Sample (SMS) is used to sell the garment at trade shows, buyer appointments, or in retail stores. They are made using the same fabric and trims used in production.
Salesman samples are a great way to prove the item will sell before placing production orders. If a specific style doesn’t get enough orders, it may be canceled, saving money on a design that would have flopped.
This is the first sample made on the actual production line and is a test for the factory.
By this stage, all fabric, trims, and findings (labels, buttons, packaging, etc) have been developed. The factory will make one last sample to ensure everything is right before bulk production.
Ideally, no changes are made at the pre-production sample stage. However, some edits are still possible. You could adjust the label placement or hangtag (ie move over 1”), but nothing can be changed with the fit, fabric, or materials.
Once the brand approves the PP sample, bulk production begins.
A sample that has a red tag indicates final approval of garment construction, fit, trims, findings, and packaging. It’s sealed by the factory (to prevent tampering) with a red tag. This sealed sample signifies production can begin.
A TOP sample is pulled off the top of the production line. It should be an exact replica of bulk production, including how it will ultimately be packaged and shipped. This includes everything from hangtags, how it should be folded, and shipped (ie in a polybag with a UPC sticker).
Pro tip: TOP is said as the individual letters, T-O-P, not like the word “top.”
After production finishes, a few shipment samples are pulled out of bulk. They are used to verify packing details and all finishing touches on the completed garment that will be sent to stores.
Often, brands will not approve shipping until reviewing these samples.
Shipment samples are also kept as future reference in case of customer complaints. This way, the sold garment can be compared to the shipment sample for discrepancies.
Photo samples are made in final fabrics and trims (or as close as possible – as long as it photographs well*). They’re made in model size and are used for photo shoots.
They may also be used as press samples, to send out to press outlets and get media coverage for a launch.
*I have done some serious photoshopping magic for catalogs. Sometimes, the trims or fabric isn’t ready for the photo shoot, so the factory sends the best sample possible. For example, yarns for yarn-dyed styles may not be ready, so the factory will print the design for the photo sample or use the closest available yarn colors. This gives the look of the final design, even though it’s not the right quality or colors.
What types of samples you need during the apparel production process varies. There are a lot of factors to consider.
*Yes, ideally your tech pack should be so thorough and complete that the factory can make a sample garment perfectly without asking questions. I’ve seen this happen before, but it’s not super common.
After 10+ years working as a freelance fashion designer, these are the types of garment samples I think are required for apparel production.
It does look like a lot, but a lot of the types of samples during the apparel production process can be combined:
Which means you can actually cut the list in half to just 4 samples:
Here’s the last thing I’ll leave you with…
In my industry experience, it’s better to err on the side of more samples than fewer. It allows you to catch mistakes and make sure production is perfect.
I have a good friend who I interviewed on my podcast. She had her own clothing brand and neglected to get a PP sample before production. The factory had made this style before, so she told them to just go ahead. Turns out, all of the bulk production was wrong. Things didn’t fit right, construction was off, and it was a waste. (She offloaded it to a discount retailer and shared the hilarious story of what happened in this interview.)
Don’t rely on your factory, you have to request the samples during garment manufacturing. Even if it takes a little more time and money, get the extra samples to ensure designs are made right.