What’s a prototype and when do you need one?

This is the first of two posts; I’ve had several questions over the past few days on a specific aspect which I’ll write about next.

Most of the question about what is a prototype can be answered in my book or in a post I wrote five years ago called Muslin, “muslins” & protos or in the post I wrote last year called the 13 different kinds of samples. I’m thinking we should revisit the subject since the word “prototype” is increasingly being thrown around in contexts that make little sense.

A prototype is an example of a style that uses the specified hardware and final fabrication. The construction should also be identical to specifications intended for the final product.

A prototype is not a dummy, mock-up, fit sample or first sample etc. Those sample types are common to the pre-prototype stages, the steps in your journey to get a prototype.

By definition, a prototype is a benchmark. As a benchmark, it is used for certain tests. Among other things, a prototype is a proof of:

  • the final interpretive word on design details and execution,
  • the proof of fabric and hardware allocation (yield or utilization),
  • and perhaps most importantly of all -the proof for costing purposes.

As I explained in the 13 samples entry (or maybe it was in my book), a pre-prototype sample can become a prototype by proclamation provided:

  • it fits the way you want it to,
  • it looks the way you want it to,
  • it uses the fabric and guts of the goods you intend to buy to make it
  • and lastly, it is sewn the way you want your production units to be constructed.

If you can’t affirm those four things, it’s not a prototype.

The other thing to keep in mind is that “prototype” is a fluid, evolving benchmark that is subject to change based on changing variables. For example, your fabric or hardware becomes unavailable. In this case, the prototype would be deprecated to “approved fit sample” or something like that. It can still be useful with value as a sew-by or something else but you will need another prototype that reflects the change in fabrication.

Next up: I have a prototype but I don’t have a pattern.

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