The Samples You Need to Develop Apparel Products

There are many steps involved in going from sketch to finished product. This development process is where you get to test out all aspects of your design before investing in production. Sampling is what allows you to do that. There are different types of samples needed during the process each serving a purpose. In today’s post, we’ll talk about what samples you need for each stage of development, what they are for, and who should make them. 


The first stage of the development process involves design sampling. At this stage, the purpose of the samples is to test the concept and finalize design details. 

Reference samples

These are not samples you have made, but rather samples of other products and brands that you want to reference for your own design. You can use them to reference design details, fit, fabric, etc. They are helpful for communicating your vision to your patternmaker or factory.

Design samples/mock-ups

These are very rough samples you as the designer may make as part of your creative process as you settle on a design. You may drape fabric on a dress form, sew a rough mock-up in muslin, or otherwise play with the form of your garment design.

Digital samples

If you work with a designer, patternmaker, or factory that has 3D design software, you may create digital 3D samples as part of your design phase after an initial pattern is made. These samples can be a helpful visual for finalizing your design and deciding on print placement, scale, or colorways. 3D samples are not required for development, but can be used as a tool in your process.


At this stage, your design is final and it is time to test the function and fit of your garment. 

Fit sample(s)

These are garment samples made to test the fit of the pattern. Depending on who is doing your patternmaking, your patternmaker, a sample maker, or your factory will make these. Ideally, they are made in your final fabric so that you can see how the fabric affects your design. They should always be made in a light colorway, though, as dark colors hide fit issues and will make it more difficult to make corrections. It usually takes 2-3 rounds of fit samples before the fit is approved.


A sew-by sample is used by your factory as a reference for how you want the garment sewn. This sample may be made by your samplemaker, or you could use the approved final fit sample for this purpose. It will be sent to your factory for them to keep as reference, though, so make sure you have any notes or photos you need to keep before sending it off.

Costing sample

Costing samples are made by your factory so they can give you a production price for the style. Most factories will not give you an exact price until they have made a costing sample. This is because the fabric, construction, and pattern itself affect how speedily it moves through the production line and the factory can’t accurately estimate time and price based on a sketch alone.


This group of samples is for selling purposes. They are to test the product’s fit in the marketplace. 

Photo samples

These samples are usually made by your factory and double as great production tests. Photo samples are made in each colorway of the design so you can photograph the products for your website, advertising, or social media. 

Rep/sales samples

Like photo samples, rep samples are also made by your factory and make great production tests. They are most likely made at the same time as your photo samples. These samples go to your wholesale sales reps or to influencers prior to ordering bulk production. This gives you time to get feedback on the designs, test their fit in the market, and even pre-sell. Depending on the feedback, you may make final adjustments to the designs, adjust your production order quantities, or even drop low-performing styles. 


Production samples are your final opportunity to catch last-minute issues before production. They are used to sign-off on production and serve as a control sample for the production run.

Size run/jump size

Size run samples are a set of one of each size in your size range. Your factory definitely needs to be the one to make these. Size run samples are used to confirm the pattern grading and allow the factory to test out the pattern in each size to make sure the graded sizes go together as smoothly as the base size. Do not skip these samples especially if you are a new brand. A good fit on all sizes is so important to the success of your brand. If you have already confirmed your brand’s sizing on previous collections, you may be able to get away with doing a jump size run instead of a full size run. A jump size run skips every other size. For example a jump size run for a brand running sizes XS-XL would include an XS, M, and XL. 


PPS stands for Pre-Production Sample. This sample is made by your factory and is the last step before the production order is cut. At this point, you should just be approving the sewing and construction and giving the go-ahead for production. If there are issues with the sample, this is your last opportunity to address them. Make sure to get a new PPS before proceeding to production if you do make any changes or have sewing concerns. Label and keep this approved PPS to compare the bulk production to.


A Top of Production sample is literally that – it is the first garment sewn from the production run. Your production order has already been cut by this time and so no changes to the pattern or fabric can be made. If needed, you may be able to still correct minor sewing concerns like stitch length or tension, but other than that, it is a final representation of how your production will look. The sample is your reference and approval. Again, keep and label this sample for future reference. 

Each of these samples help you refine your design and create a better product. Apparel product development is an iterative process and the more attention to detail you give to the samples, the smoother your production will go.

Leave a Reply