At a Glance:
For fashion and apparel brands that design and develop new products each season, the time spent requesting samples, providing feedback, making revisions, and approving order requests is not always an efficient or cost-effective process. Sample development is a necessary part of any fashion production cycle, but if not organized properly, then your company risks significant financial and environmental setbacks.
Ultimately, the goal of every consumer-facing brand is to secure savings and get products to market faster with fewer samples. Luckily, there are ways for your organization to simplify the sampling process, speed up approvals, and efficiently communicate with suppliers thanks to dynamic tools like Backbone PLM.
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What are Product Samples?
Before we delve into Backbone’s impact on sample development, let’s discuss a few types of samples.
Prototype Samples: The first sample a factory makes in the product development cycle is a prototype sample; created using your brand’s tech pack. This sample will include any images, materials, size specs, references, or specific instructions needed to create the sample. Oftentimes, this first round of sampling will use cost-effective materials to test different concepts or fabric designs.
Fit Sample: After the prototype sample is complete, it’s time to review fit samples. These samples are based on the product specs provided in the tech pack. This stage is meant for you and your factories to review the fit and design of your products. Fit samples are created out of your finalized materials list for developers to inspect the fabric quality of each product and prevent any snags in production.
Pre-Production Samples (PP): The pre-product stage of sample development takes place once you have approved the fit of each product. In essence, PP samples are the last samples that require review prior to the production stage. It can be very costly and time-consuming to make revisions after this sampling round, so be sure to carefully review each sample before signing off on the production design.
Top of Production Samples (TOP): Top of production samples help maintain organization within the development process and provide a frame of reference for future production needs. These samples should be current and up-to-date with all relevant comments and modifications from the prior sampling stages. Considering TOP samples are the first in line with all approved revisions, feedback, trim, and materials, it’s common for brands to use these samples as part of internal marketing efforts.
Backbone Saves Time
Because every brand’s product catalog, design budget, and development services vary industry-wide, there isn’t always a standard process for managing fashion sample development. There’s the option to take the Atari approach of bouncing emails, PDFs, photos, or Excel docs back and forth like a game of Pong to communicate each round of sampling, but this manual process proves to be overly repetitive and leaves too much room for information to be lost or miscommunicated. Instead, your brand could take a modern approach and utilize a PLM like Backbone to limit unnecessary rounds of sampling and add weeks onto lead times.
The future of consumer brands is digital, and this approach allows for an innovative design at tremendous speed, but also saves valuable time in each step of product development. A cloud-based system like Backbone saves time in both the sampling and revision process because all necessary product details, including color swatches, fit samples, lab dips, and so on, are easy to access in one consolidated system.
Backbone makes it much simpler for internal teams and suppliers to communicate timelines and keep track of what’s ordered, final materials cost, and arrival times for products. All of the information included in the tech pack will allow your team to manage sample data across styles, SKUs, and seasons, so you know exactly how your products will arrive without having to chase down your factory for updates.
Backbone’s interconnected Product & Component Libraries dynamically update central product data that can be reused, edited, or updated with ease throughout the various sampling stages. With sample details such as the Bill of Materials (BOM) and Point of Measure Library (POM), your brand can reduce sampling with fewer errors and improve quality control. Backbone’s centralized system of record helps you manage information across teams and move at digital speed.
The feedback and revision stage is a crucial step to limit errors and ensure you’re accurately displaying your product specifications in a way your factory will understand. When creating tech packs with Backbone, it’s easy to leave comments from wherever you are. Annotate, upload images, or collaborate with team members in real-time to make changes faster and keep track of approvals. Compare and modify measurement requests against your factory’s measurements and approve the product or send it back for an additional sample all in one place.
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SIDFACTOR Finds Sampling Success
SIDFACTOR is a creative design agency in Boulder, Colorado that specializes in product strategy, design, development, and sourcing for various technical apparel, sportswear, equipment, and softgoods brands. Evi Ranson, Product Developer at SIDFACTOR, elaborated on her experience using Backbone and how it improved sample development.
Ranson explained how she works diligently to manage color reviews, BOM creation, cost engineering, lab dipping, and factory communications, and how Backbone “Provides the opportunity to organize my samples while working with multiple brands. It’s an efficient system that saves me so much time during the week.”
She finds success working in the Item Master view to access real-time data associated with products, including lead times, sample tracking, and factory allocation. “I filter through every factory and season given new or carryover products … All of the information is right there in front of you,” Ranson explained. “Going into each style and making updates is more efficient once it’s time to revise samples.”
Backbone’s flexible views manage internal communication even if your teams aren’t working side-by-side. “Having Backbone is easy to manage and access while traveling or while teams are remote. We’re a smaller team, so everyone uses Size Specs to better understand a product, but I’m updating everything and using it to prepare for sample development.”
First Lite Does it Right
First Lite is a premium outerwear company whose products focus on the outdoor sports industry, specifically the hunting space. It was recently purchased by a larger corporation, MeatEater, which has contributed to exceptional company growth.
Pat Beernink, Director of Development at First Lite, also provided insight into how Backbone is positively impacting business ventures. “We’re continuing to grow; it’s an exciting time for us,” said Beernink. “We’ve added a lot of new team members and work well remotely.”
Remote teams must collaborate well together to reduce errors during the sample development stage. When product specs are input correctly and revisions are made promptly, it ultimately reduces the number of samples needed to get a product to market, which saves money.
Beernink went on to explain her team’s process, saying, “We go into our Size Specs and measure our sample. We’ll mark the phase, size, and date we received it. It’s really cool how you can record all the received measurements, and Backbone does all the math for you,” she said. “It’s easy to find what’s out of place without having to highlight it yourself.”
Backbone simplifies the sampling process so your factories have fewer gaps to fill in. Teams can leverage the platform to include specific comments with each round of feedback to “call out items that are out of tolerance or not the right quality,” and keep your tech packs clean.
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Samples Made Simple
If your brand has struggled to adopt an efficient sampling process in the past because of manual development tools, Backbone’s platform helps alleviate common frustrations such as:
Standardizing fits: Maintain product specs while shifting to new vendors or launching new categories and fabrics
Sample management: Provide cross-functional visibility to what stage the development process is in and react quickly to make changes
Product agility: The Direct to Consumer market is on the rise as the pandemic climate balances out, so replenishing products and maintaining a high stock level is vital
Tracking development budgets: Spend more time tracking margins, production numbers, adoption rates, cost per sample, cost per order, and precisely analyze these numbers to limit your company’s spending
Visibility into product data: Make better decisions on material costs, design changes, and timelines to safeguard revenue and cut down on waste
It’s important to remember that your initial sample is what brings life to your product. Designers, developers, and factories can evaluate the quality, design, and construction of your product to create something that aligns with your brand’s vision. Samples allow teams to discover any revisions to be made, and they make it easier for factories to provide an accurate quote so teams don’t exceed their materials budget. In the end, your brand should strive to have samples approved in as few rounds as possible to enter the production stage sooner and get to market ahead of the competition.
If your brand needs an all-encompassing tool to manage sample iterations and product data, Backbone PLM empowers brands to operate smarter, faster, and at scale. Refer to our case studies, blogs, and customer reviews so you can be confident in your PLM and your sample development.
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