Proto 1, 2 & sometimes 3 and salesman sample
Finally it is time to make the first samples. You will see your ideas materialize into an actual product. Normally you’ll have your intended factory make the prototypes. You see to that the factory has your chosen fabrics and trims, then you send over your tech packs and patterns. If you are in a rush and your materials haven’t reached the manufacturer yet, you can ask them if they have similar materials in stock, to make the first sample. It is preferable, but not essential, that you have the first prototype made in the intended fabric. It will help a lot with the silhouette and the fit. If they make the first proto in a fabric with the same characteristics as your planned material, it’s fine. It may be in a weird color, but it’s still gonna do the job.
This is not the time when you sit back, wait and hope for the best. It is a big chance that you have a clearer picture of your product in your mind, than you have been able to communicate to the factory. Especially if you haven’t worked together before there is a risk for misinterpretations. The more time you spend together, in person, discussing the styles, the better result you’ll see. If you only communicate electronically, the proto will probably miss the mark. If the factory is far and you can only go once for the whole production cycle, the best time in my opinion is to visit the factory with the comments for proto 1. Ideally you should visit before you start a relationship, during the sample making, and right before the bulk production to make sure everything is on track and exactly how you want it. If there are still question marks you can fix those.
For me the moment the first prototype arrives and I’m about to look at it, I feel excited like on Christmas Eve, and at the same time, sick to my stomach. I’m excited to finally see if the idea in my head is the same as the style in front of me, and I’m horrified that it’s gonna be crap. A lot of questions start flooding my head: is the pocket shape tilted enough, is the hood brim wide enough, is the sleeve well articulated, is the length too long, blah blah blah… What I also have to remember is to step back, take it all in, look at the front, look at the back and look at the sides. Just look. What is my first spontaneous feeling?
There will always be comments on proto 1
I have never in my designer career seen a perfect proto 1. The order in how to comment a proto is usually the following:
- The pattern maker measures the proto and writes down the discrepancies. If the material of the garment is somewhat stretchy, never put the garment on. You might stretch it and get some measurements off.
- A fit model is brought in and the style is fitted on her/him. Comments are taken and written down.
- All adjustments should ideally be made on the proto, for as much information as possible to stay with it, as a bible.
- After the fit session the designer sits quietly with the proto and examines it in detail. All the things that haven’t been looked at in the fit session need attention now. The more comments the better, at this stage.
The comments are then communicated to the factory, the pattern maker makes the changes on the patterns and sends the updated version to the factory. Now the factory has all the information needed to start with proto 2. If the proto 1 was really good, and you feel there is no need for a second proto you can go right ahead and make the salesman sample directly. Of course this should be as accurate and as similar to the bulk production style as possible.
It would be ideal if you or someone else could use/test the proto 1. It would be good if you can keep it, because sometimes you have to send it back to the factory with all the comments. This depends on your agreement with the factory. Usually they keep a sample of their own, and you have your sample. If you can test the sample, you will notice things you didn’t think of in the fit session. Pocket bags that are too small, or sleeves that are too tight, or details that don’t actually work when you start using them. The more testing the better, also for the material.
Depending on your relationship with the factory and the quantities you will be ordering, the cost for the protos and the sales man samples differ. Most of the times the cost is FOB x2 or x3.
The most important thing in the proto sample stage is the communication. Let the factory know your whole company idea. Let them know your values. Tell them about who your customer is and where the products are intended to be used. All this extra information helps the factory immensely and they will eventually understand certain decisions you will make.
Going to factory visits is one of my favourite things to do in the production process. The people you meet and the connections you make are so much fun. It sure helps a bit if you bring some good chocolate to the meetings, they will always appreciate that.