SAMPLE UNBOXING – The Experience Consumers Don’t Get.


Receiving Samples

by David Mawdsley


One thing that excites every designer at one stage or another is receiving samples. This is something which is comparable to a sneaker head opening a box of shoes for the first time, but on the most testosterone filled steroids known to man!
Recently I received a box of samples that felt like a defining moment in my career, so it felt necessary to explore this subject & gain others perspective of it.

For me, there have been different circumstances regarding this subject that I trust most other footwear designers & designers of any product can relate to.
It’s one thing to be the first person to get a fresh pair of shoes that were released on mass, or gain “1 of 20” pairs, but it’s a whole entirely different scenario to receive a box filled with samples from a factory , of something that you poured a percentage of your soul into. It can be one of the most exhilarating feelings you’ll ever get, or equally the most painful.

From my perspective there are levels & unwritten rules to this. However there certainly levels & rules I have yet to have, or never will experience. Here’s a few of my experiences & guidelines to set the tone…


WhatsApp Image 2018-05-03 at 11.06.40

Sample Receiving Defining Moment No.1


One of the most exciting times for me, which arguably set the standards for receiving samples was at my first job & simultaneously the first time I ever received a “commercial” sample(s).
What I mean by commercial, is that it was a design I was forced to put together for a private label company, for a brand we were contracted to at the time. It wasn’t something I conceptualised using my “creative genius”. It was something for the masses, but never the less, I was like a 6 year old on Christmas Eve.
The box was handed to me by my Senior at the time. I remember he had a smirk on his face, like a proud father or as if to say, “Here you go little buddy, you earned this” kinda attitude.

I was surprised, in shock even. I had been waiting for this moment for weeks. Everyday asking my boss “when are the samples due?”, “are the samples on their way?”, “has the factory sent the samples?”, “do you have the tracking number for the samples?”.
I didn’t charge into the box though when I got it. I savoured the moment. I knew this was the only time I would every get to open my first samples.
I opened the box and there they were…beautiful. So fresh you could smell the glue from the factory. Not glue like in a Nike box that came off the line months before, glue like they had literally JUST left the factory 1 day before.

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-03 at 11.06.42

I don’t know if I was high off the glue, but I looked at them in my hands like I was holding a large gem for the first time. A moment of silence, of self achievement, both filled with pride & humbled at the same time. It was seriously emotional & understandably so. I had drawn shoes from the age of 11/12, studied Footwear Design at University for 3 years & finally, at my first job at the age of 20. I had seen my first ever sample of a shoe designed with my own hands. For a whole week, I had those shoes lined up on my desk. Whenever someone touched them I would be possessive, I wouldn’t say anything, but my muscles would tense up & eyes would intensify.

Now don’t get me wrong, they were beautiful, but only to me. I learned from there on out that they weren’t perfect. My boss dropped the bomb…”they had ways to go before they were acceptable for production”. But that’s were more education came…sample corrections commenced. Drawing on the samples with silver pen to correct panelling, extending tongues, shortening vamps etc etc. Back in a box they went, off to India to be remade correctly for the customer & another 2 weeks until I got to open ANOTHER box of samples.


WhatsApp Image 2018-05-03 at 11.06.41(1)
As time has gone by i’ve seen many samples. There have been painful moments, where it’s taken rounds, upon rounds, upon rounds of sampling & corrections to gain a range for trade shows that in the end just looked shit!
Times where pantones and materials are incorrect, where soles have been attached to the wrong uppers, or even the sole has been too small for the last. There is no end to the potential for things to go wrong with a sample. But in the mistakes, sometimes there are the moments where the faults actually end up better than the requested specifications.


WhatsApp Image 2018-05-03 at 11.06.41


So to finnish it off, here are some of my personal “Rules of Receiving Samples or Sampling”.


  1. Do not open someone else’s samples. If they are not by you, or not for you, you have ZERO right to open, assess or even handle the samples first. It’s disrespectful to the designer who made it.
  2. Always make sure that a junior designer, or intern sees their first sample before you do, let them savour that experience. It means so much.
  3. Expect the unexpected. The first sample 9 times out of 10 will never be perfect. The second or even third might not be perfect either.
  4. Be diligent with your specification sheets. Leave no stone unturned & make sure every single minuet bit of detail is highlighted. Make sure there is no excuse for samples to be wrong. That way you might more often than not get that 1 sample out of 10 that is perfect the first time.
  5. Always savour the unboxing. Through out your career you will unbox 100’s of samples & make 1000’s of corrections. So that it doesn’t get stale, try to enjoy every single one even if it does turn out like a potato

potato lace


From here on out I’ll be asking a few other designers & developers to share their experiences, along with whatever rules they feel are necessary to be conscious of. Keep an eye out for what I hope to be more personal experiences from some very interesting people.

David Mawdsley

The Footwear Composer.

Start the conversation