Episode 5: 5 Tips to stop great ideas becoming scary samples




Design, Product Development, Sustainability, Circular Economy. 



Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product.


Hello, and welcome to episode five of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. Today, I wanted to talk about some practical product development tips and it's relevant whether you're just starting out, but it's even just a good reminder if you're working with a new supplier, or you've just noticed a few samples coming in not quite right. And if this is something that you're focused on right now, there's a free download on my website called 10 sustainable switches, which will give you 10 tips or things to look at when you're first designing your product, and designing it to last. So the topic I'm talking about today sits in this really early first stage of product development, you might have done your research, you might have done all of your colour palettes, you've got this amazing vision of this dress or top that you think is going to just be gorgeous when it comes in and so set to work putting all of your ideas on paper and you send it off to your supplier.


Then a couple of weeks later, the package arrives, you're excited, you can't believe it's finally here and you open it up and to put it nicely it is not what you expected.


And actually, this reminds me of a story from very early on in my career when I worked for a boss and whenever one of the team samples did not come in looking like what they had pitched it to be in a sign-off meeting, they would basically just yell, "not the vision!", which I can laugh about now, but I can assure you at the time was very stressful. And it made me learn very quickly how to make sure that what I sold in that sign off meeting, or the product to be in that meeting comes in looking like that on my first sample. Because what they call a "strike-rate" as a designer is very important. If you're getting samples in and you're racking up 10, 20 a range of samples on a wall for a first meeting and they're all not quite right, it means that there's costs to the company in terms of materials development time, and also delivery lead time. Because the more time you spend up front trying to fix problems, the less time you have to get that product in at the time you had planned to, when you first designed that range.


It affects not only your launch date, it could create holes in your outfitting and going back to sustainability, you're wasting materials, energy, packaging, and people's time. With all that in mind, I've broken down this step into five tips that can help you reduce the risks and get you closer to a first sample that looks like you thought it would.


Let's start with the first tip which focuses on fabric. Fabric is probably one of the most intensive materials or inputs into your product, and it's one that you want to make sure it's suitable for the garment that you are trying to create. So to make sure you are using a fabric that will give you a look that you want, it's always best to see a physical fabric swatch to touch and feel. This is why as part of a sourcing step, you will often source your fabrics before you start designing. You might research what direction you're going in or need new versions of best selling fabrics, then you'll put together a brief you'll go to mills, you'll look at their collections, and get a bit of an idea of what you think you might use, first up before you start even thinking product.


You want to avoid designing something and then just choosing a fabric off a photo, there's a lot to consider the drape, the handfeel, how stiff it is, if it's going to gather up the way that you want it to. So that first step is actually to make sure that when you're putting your designs together and your shapes, you really want that fabric swatch next to you, you can touch it, feel it and understand if it's going to give you the look that you want.


Moving on to the second tip, this one is around your sample size body measurements. Whether your sample size is a size 10 or a size 20, you really want to know what your starting point measurements are for that. What is the bust, waist, hip, how tall is this person, it will affect your proportions and it's important to understand how much ease you want within your garment. Whether you want it to be oversized or whether you need negative ease for tighter fitting garments such as active wear.


It's important because even though the fit is traditionally the responsibility of a pattern maker, you need to be able to communicate a clear vision of how you want that garment to look on your customer.


Moving on to the third tip that you could consider doing, is a little-mock up. So you could do this to check one of your ideas just on your own home sewing machine or pinning a section or your pattern maker could just sort of mock up a little section for you and see if you like it. This is where that physical fabric swatch comes in handy. Because if you've got it there, you can sort of do a little bit of a gather up or you can kind of drape it on the stand, and you can see how it's going to perform. Ideally, you want a fabric swatch or a hanger, that's a decent size, maybe around A4 size. If you're working off a five centimetre by five centimetre little cutting, that's not going to be as useful to you, it's gonna be very hard to see how that fabric will perform.


The reason why I like doing little mock ups is because it helps to build that picture of what your sample is going to look like. It helps you get really clear on what you want and how you expect it to look, before you start briefing someone else. You want to be very clear on what you expect this garment to look like before it leaves the building or your office or your brain, I guess.


The fourth tip I would suggest is to get into the details, you want to be specifying things like thread thickness, stitches per inch, specifying your trims, buttons, how you want your hem finished, what kind of fusing you want. All of these little details add up to what your product is going to look like.

The second part to this tip is if possible, send a little cutting of what exactly you want. If you like a particular fusing, or you like the tension on a particular topstitching, send a little cutting of that. So it's easily communicated.


Having worked with numerous supply bases across the world, I know that sometimes when I'm calling a particular trim, or finish or detail something, it's often not what they refer to it as. So sending a small cutting is bit of a shortcut with that communication process.


So the final and fifth tip in this process is around communication and this has two parts to it. The first one is to do a proper handover, when you're handing over your details to your factory, whether that's virtual or in person, it's just a case of going through each style, what the fabric is, what the finish is, and just giving them an opportunity to ask any questions to make sure that you're on the same page. Because often what seems clear to you can often not be clear to the person, regardless of if they're from the same source base or not.


The second part to that is just making sure that your supplier has a quick way to come back to you to get a decision if something is wrong, or they can't find something or they're not really sure exactly what to do if they've gotten into making the sample and they're like, Oh, this isn't going to work, this construction methods not the best, it's not going to be very neat. So maybe that's just a case of making sure they're comfortable just Whatsapping you or texting you and knowing that they can get a response to make sure that that process is still moving in the sample room, you don't want your sample to kind of be put to the side because they're not getting an answer back or they're not sure on how to finish something.


And actually just one more thing on communication. I feel like it's great to have that conversation up front that if they do come up against a hurdle or a decision or something's not available that you requested, it's great to be able to say that you would like to know what the options are, and then choose it to be able to then move forward. That's going to stop that surprise when you open up a sample package and they've made an executive decision for you. So perhaps that trim that you really wanted was not available. So they have chosen a substitute for you but it's possibly not one that you would have chosen yourself.


So in summary, we've gone through the five tips that can hopefully stop your great ideas and visions becoming scary samples. The first one being making sure you have a physical fabric swatch when you're designing. The second one being making sure you're clear on your sample size body measurements. The third one being doing little mock ups to build that vision of what you think it's going to look like. The fourth being getting into the details and specifying things like thread thickness. And the fifth one being around communication, making sure it's open, it's two way and everyone is clear on the expectations.


Over the years, I found that working within this framework really helps to minimise the risk of any scary surprises when I open up that sample package. And me being really clear on what I expect that to look like and being able to communicate it helps me get a very accurate costing upfront with that first sample. And bringing that back to sustainability, it saves you using unnecessary resources from going back and forth sending packages back and forth, using materials, trims, all those resources that go into sample making.


So hopefully that's given you some tips on how to get that first part of your product development process working more smoothly. But if you're still struggling, you can head to my website belindahumphrey.com and book in a free 20 minute phone consult where we can discuss some of the ways I might be able to help you.


You will find the show notes for this episode over at belindahumphrey.com/podcast and if you're liking the podcast so far, hit subscribe and you'll get notified of when new episodes come out. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time. Bye.


Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch head over to belindahumphrey.com or you can find me on Instagram @belindahumphrey_



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