Tips for Fashion Designers: How to create a sample in Vietnam

Here are some tips from our experience of manufacturing in Vietnam. These recommendations may or may not work for you depending on where you are located, but we hope that you find some things we learned over the past couple of years of designing handbags in Vietnam useful!

After choosing good suppliers and manufacturers for your design, you are ready to move to the next exciting stage: creating your first sample! This is a very important step and it really has to be done correctly, as it will affect the rest of the entire production process. This step will sometimes have to be repeated several times, and it requires plenty of communication and explanation. Therefore, in order to save time and resources while bringing your design to life, we will provide you with some tips that may assist you, and help you create a perfect sample.

1. Create the design specs with all of the measurements and details

After getting down the details of the perfect design, you need to convey it to your supplier. To help them remember all of the information you provided, so that they will be able to create the sample exactly as you want it, you will need a very specific and thorough design for them to follow.

The specs should contain all of the information pertaining to the design, including sketches from different angles, measurements and material details. If the manufacturer sources hardware as well for your design such as zippers, buttons, magnetic snaps etc, you should also write down the type of hardware features  you want, and every little bit of information that both of you have agreed upon.

Go over every little detail, as the design will not be as familiar to the maker as it is to you, and  some simple details could easily be misunderstood. Assuming you are a handbag designer, you shouldn’t forget about the interior parts’ specs and details, such as the placement of the lining, the size and position of the inner pocket, etc


One thing to be careful with is the measurement system you will be using for your design. Metric units of measurement are being used in many countries instead of the Imperial system. Therefore, you might need to convert your design’s dimensions into the appropriate units before going into detail with your local manufacturer. When asking for a quote, remember to ask what unit the price is covering, as a nuance between yards and meters or inches and centimeters might end up costing you a lot more than you thought! Also, some local suppliers might work with units in a different way, so you need to adapt your measurements.


2. Create a Quality Control Checklist

A Quality Control Checklist will help you remember all of the requirements your design should fulfil. It can start with the main feature of your design, such as the material, the lining, hardware, and go through every little detail, such as the stitches, the sides of the patterns, the way the patterns connect, etc. You should also write down all of the tidbits of information your sample maker should remember when making your product, such as what your hardware should be made out of, or to remind them to scan every piece of textile for any stains or mistakes before attaching them, or that they should be careful with the glue that could leave a mark on the material -you should note down everything you think might be helpful. It will save you a lot of time and money in the long term.

3. Meeting with suppliers to discuss

Next step when designing in Vietnam is visiting and discussing your terms with your sample maker. You are going to go over all of the details, talk about pricing and agree on quantity. During your visit, you should also ask for some other possible options, ask about various quantities and quotes, and determine how the price per unit will change if you order more items, as sometimes you just need to order a couple more to get a real bargain. You can also ask how much extra it would cost you per item if you used materials provided directly by the maker, and how much it would cost if you sourced materials yourself. On some occasions, you could save more time and money by just letting your sample maker source the materials or hardware for your design, provided they can find exactly what you need.  


Some manufacturers will charge high prices for a sample, but deduct that amount from the total payment if you decide to order a large quantity from them (considered as free sample), but be careful; if you aren’t happy with the sample and decide not to go with them, you’ll end up paying a lot for just one product. So don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as possible to clarify everything, especially when you are working without a written contract. Finally, you should make sure that you put on paper all of the terms that both you and the manufacturer have agreed on, to help your sample maker remember everything and maybe fix the product if needed, without any extra cost to you, in case the sample doesn’t turn out as well as you’d like.

Please note that if you are manufacturing out of countries like the US, then you will most likely have to spend a lot of money upfront on tooling costs, which can sometimes lock you into working with a supplier. So make sure you do a lot of research and choose the right maker right from the start.

4. Pros and cons of small suppliers

The first and most important reason why you should work with a small supplier is that they usually have no problem taking up smaller orders, which is a very appropriate option when first starting out. When you work with small orders you don’t have to risk all of your money on one design without really knowing whether you will be able to make any sales. Secondly, small suppliers are also very open to negotiation in Vietnam. You can ask them for a discount, higher quality hardware (if you agree with their quote), or for a faster delivery time, when you need your products sooner rather than later. Besides, small scale manufacturers are able to change your design during the production process, since the manager is usually also the main maker. The benefit is that you can simply make a call, or have a short visit, to let them know about the adjustments you will be needing, without having to go over a long procedure with lots of paperwork.


However, working with small suppliers can have some cons. Usually, they don’t know how to to ‘read’ and understand your detailed sketch. You’ll need to explain things a lot, and even provide them with similar product photos, to help them understand every part of your design. Many of them don’t have enough tools and skills to follow your complex designs. If you come up with a very innovative design, it will take time for them to understand exactly what you need, and they might get it wrong several times, because that is not what they usually do. Some small businesses don’t have an organized working space and your sample may end up being stored in a box with plenty of other things, therefore it can pretty easily end up having unexpected dirt spots or stains. All of these things you will have to deal with as they come if you are designing in places like Vietnam, where the culture is different from what you may be used to.

5. Don’t use rare or expensive material to make the sample

If you incorporate your design with rare or expensive materials, which are obviously very hard to get, you shouldn’t take any risks with your first sample – especially if your design is fairly innovative and different from others. You should definitely use a different and yet still similar material to the one you actually want, because the sample maker might not fully understand your sketch and your words, and they may have to make the sample a couple more times before getting it right. You might also end up changing some details on your design when seeing it in real life, or even in the course of the sampling process, so you should be prepared to remake your sample numerous times.


6. Always keep a sample for the next order

Congratulations, you now have your perfect sample, and you were able to actually bring your design to life exactly as you want it, from a sketch to the finished product! Now it’s time to produce more of them for your collection. It’s very exciting to see your products sell like crazy, which then means you need to go back to your maker and ask them to make more!

You should always remember to keep the very first sample you made, not only in order to be able to compare it with any newly made designs when doing quality control, but also for your next order, even if you decide to work with the same manufacturer. Sometimes manufacturers will not keep all of their patterns, and you’ll find yourself explaining everything all over again. Small differences such as the way lining is attached, the way the zippers look, or using the wrong button size may still happen, and they can totally devalue your product line – not to mention it will cost you a lot of extra money to fix. If you don’t have a sample, you will usually have to pay for all the faulty samples, as well, so always keep your original item safe!


If you have any tips of your own on how to create handbag samples, we’d love to hear! Please comment below, and share any designing stories you may have.

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