The Challenges of Sample Shipping in the Fashion World

For an industry that runs on tight deadlines and rapid turnarounds, few things are more detrimental than a lost or delayed sample shipment.

The package was lost. It contained new sample apparel for an upcoming fashion brand launch, and now the samples were nowhere to be found. This nightmare scenario plays out far too often in the world of fashion, where sample shipments getting delayed or lost can throw entire production timelines into chaos. 

In the fast-paced fashion landscape, brands rely heavily on physical samples and prototypes at various stages of production. A single collection can involve hundreds of different sample items, from raw materials to buttons to finished products, all moving on varying schedules. With so many hands touching these precious items, keeping track of the samples and getting them to destinations on time is incredibly challenging.

The old-fashioned, manual approaches many brands still rely on are no longer cutting it. Pre-production teams waste hour after hour tracking samples via spreadsheets and status calls, with no centralized visibility across the supply chain. As shipments move internationally, often critical customs paperwork is filled out inaccurately or neglected completely. And suppliers frequently use manual, error-prone processes for basic steps like printing shipping labels, leading to mistakes and delays.

Let’s explore some of the major pain points brands experience when shipping physical samples:

Managing and Tracking Hundreds of Samples

Between raw materials, fabrics, trim components, and finished garments, large brands can have hundreds of individual samples in motion at any given time. With so many small items involved in a collection sampling effort, it’s incredibly difficult to manually track the status and location of each one. Is all the trim in? Did the fabric make it from China? Which samples still need to go to the development center in NYC? Answering these questions demands significant coordination efforts and manual tracking, costing pre-production staff valuable time they could spend on more productive work.

International Shipping and Customs Issues

Given the global nature of fashion supply chains, most sample shipments need to cross borders. Shipping internationally inevitably means dealing with customs and ensuring compliance. However, inefficient processes and poor data management make it harder than it should be. Lost customs paperwork, inaccurate product descriptions, and missing compliance information lead to shoes and apparel getting stuck for days or weeks in customs. Fixing errors and resubmitting documentation delays samples and throws off production timelines.

According to experts, around one in four apparel and footwear samples experiences an “unforced error” delay due to inaccurate data on labels or customs forms.


Manual Processes and Data Errors

In many organizations, suppliers still use largely manual, error-prone processes for basic steps like printing shipping labels and customs forms. With little data validation or integration between systems, it’s far too common for the wrong product descriptions, inaccurate addresses, and incorrect clearance instructions to end up on shipping paperwork. This leads to substantial delivery delays and lost samples. 

Carrier and Cost Management

Shipping samples involves choosing from an array of carrier options with service levels, requirements, and costs that can be opaque and confusing. Trying to identify the optimal shipping solutions that balance speed, cost, and service for each sample item is exceptionally difficult without visibility into all the options. Many brands end up overpaying to ship samples via overnight air when a 2-day service would suffice. And the “free” carrier solutions offered by UPS, FedEx, and others do little to clarify matters – they lock you into a single carrier, obscure true costs, and make rate comparisons impossible.

In fashion, samples delayed are sales lost.


The fashion world moves faster than ever before. Brands need digitization, automation, and data integration to modernize their pre-production sample management and shipping processes. Real-time visibility into sample status, accurate customs documentation, and streamlined workflows are imperative for any brand that wants to remain competitive today. There’s no time left for the chaos of manual tracking and lost shipments. 

Luckily, solutions like Ensemble provide the item-level visibility, integrated data, and automated shipping workflows fashion brands need to smooth and speed up the clunky sample shipping process. Learn more at