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Copyright 2006
Cornell University.
All rights reserved.


Product Development Stages

Prototype development
Potential design solutions that match your product concept should be constructed using the most likely materials. These first designs or models are called prototypes. The development of these prototypes is a very important step. It should include a thorough evaluation of materials, structure, surface design, and wear testing.

Selecting materials and methods
Prototypes give you the opportunity to test out a variety of

  • materials and trims
  • product structures through pattern-cutting and construction methods
  • surface design methods.

Materials should be evaluated for functional characteristics such as stretch, water repellency, cleaning requirements, and wear. You should ask for the material specifications at time of purchase (see the Sourcing Materials module). The wrong material in a good design may cause failure. Actually constructing prototypes in several materials and trims will help you evaluate the materials and the entire design.

Both look and cost will determine your final decisions.

Jin Seo photo
"Generally, fabrications are becoming more and more interesting. There are more and more new developments and techniques...especially in the sports field. "

Fabric is often used as inspiration as well as to fulfill a technical function, as Jin Seo describes.



Saxby photo
"Most of the colors I think are timeless. But I always try to do a percentage fo the collection in a surprising color or a surprising fabrication. "

Kathleen Saxby discusses how she chooses colors, fabrications, and small details to subtly distinguish her jackets from others in the marketplace.


Pattern development and fit
Developing patterns that are sewn together to make a product that looks like you imagined is another objective of prototyping. It often takes several tries to perfect a pattern that represents your product idea. Testing a variety of construction methods and stitch types will also strengthen your design and its durability.

Fit should be considered from the production and consumer satisfaction perspectives. Most apparel businesses use standard sizes but also develop their own measurements for each size based on an "ideal" customer's figure. Skilled patternmakers, either as full-time employees or free-lancers, can help you develop the fit. Consumer satisfaction with fit should be evaluated during wear testing.

Surface design
Several prototypes should be developed, not just one. The prototypes should vary in materials, product structures, and surface designs so that function and appeal of the prototypes can be compared. Color, print, and embroidery design options should be selected and tested during the prototype stage. What works in one color sometimes doesn't work in another, for example.

Once the prototypes are ready, you can try them on, wear them around, and adjust obvious problems. Then, you are ready for wear testing.

Try these web sites!

Some web sites provide customers with interactive choices of materials and styling online. Develop your own prototypes of

These are the same steps you should follow in testing out a variety of materials, styles, and surface designs during the prototype stage.

Wear testing for function and appeal
Using wear tests to evaluate prototypes can help you make final design refinements. Three or four volunteers wear the prototypes as customers would wear or use them - outdoors, doing laundry, in the shower. They can tell you about the way it looks, how it feels, how it performs, how it fits. Do they like wearing it? Is it tight or loose, or stretchy? Do they feel warm or cold, happy or pretty?

McCann photo
"We have about three dozen people who wear test. A lot of people are interested in testing. ..We send through the mail the product and a questionnaire...They use it a couple times a week and wash it...and we'll call it back after six weeks. "

Some companies, especially those selling functional products, conduct wear tests. Denni McCann describes the process Champion Jogbra uses to test their new and continuing products.



Modifications and final prototype
After testing your prototypes for function and aesthetic appeal, you will be able to choose the features of each prototype that seemed to work best. Often, you will combine features from several prototypes for the final product. For example, the neckline of one prototype might be most comfortable while the binding on another neckline is the most appealing.

Taft photo
"This is new for us. We've never bound it all the way around before...The additional cost wasn't that much and we felt it gave a better looking, more finished product. "

Margaret Taft explains some of the special design features that make her Calf Cozy, a warming garment for newborn calves, unique and functional.



1. How many prototypes should you make? Why should you test different materials in a prototype design?
2. What is the goal of wear testing your prototype designs?
3. Describe several questions to ask and things to observe during a wear test.




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