Fashion Production Models Explained

Have you ever wondered how some brands offer 2-day shipping and never seem to run out of new products to sell, while others do limited pre-orders months in advance of the order ship date? It all comes down to their production model. Different production models can yield very different businesses, garments, customer experiences, and ethical and environmental impacts. Let’s look at a range of fashion production models and their pros and cons.

Bulk Production

This is probably the most common production model. The fashion brand designs a collection and then orders a large quantity of each style/color/size from the factory based on their sales predictions. The brand might base their production order off of retail orders they received at wholesale markets or they may make their best guess at how much to order based on previous sales data, trends forecasts, and merchandising plans. The factory will cut and sew the orders in bulk ahead of the selling season. Once the inventory arrives, the brand (or retailer) will then sell the products to their customers and fulfill the orders from this bulk inventory.

The upside of this model is that customers don’t have to wait for their order to ship. The inventory is already in-stock and so turn-around is generally quick. Because the orders are large, the brand gets a better deal on the cost-per-unit which lets them make more money and keep prices lower for customers.

The downside is that what is ordered almost never matches demand. Sometimes styles sell out quickly and customers are still left waiting until reorders arrive. More often, the brand overbought and has to sell leftover inventory at a discount (or get rid of some other way). 

Small Batch

This production approach focuses on ordering inventory, but doing it at a smaller scale. Small batch can mean anything from around 50 pieces per style to 500 pieces per style. (There is no definite quantity that equates to small batch). 

This allows brands to test the customer demand without the upfront investment in large amounts of inventory. The cost per unit to produce a small batch is generally higher than bulk production, but still leverages some of the efficiency and cost savings of cutting and sewing in bulk.

Brands that produce in small batches often also do so to reduce the excess inventory waste found with bulk production models. It is much easier to sell through 100 units than 10,000, especially for smaller brands.


On-demand production focuses on the actual demand rather than the forecasted demand for a style. This production model eliminates the excess inventory waste by only making the styles, sizes, and quantities customers actually want to buy. Instead of producing the style and then selling it, an on-demand model sells the style then produces it. This could be individual orders for customers or large bulk orders for retailers. Whatever the quantity of the orders, they are produced after the demand is proven.

There are many benefits to this production model. Theoretically, there is no excess inventory, though returns can complicate this. In terms of cash flow, brands don’t have to invest money into materials and production as far ahead of making the sales. 

The drawbacks are that customers do have to wait for their order to be made after they’ve placed the order. While the styles may be cut and sewn to order, the materials might have to be brought in in advance in some cases. The logistics of having the right amount of materials ready when needed as well as a factory who can produce orders on-demand can be a challenge.


Similar to on-demand production, a made-to-order model produces a style only after it is ordered. Often made-to-order refers to orders placed by the end customer rather than a retailer. You’ll see this type of production model often from maker brands or for higher-end styles. Because each piece is made-to-order, this model often includes customization options for the orders. For example, a brand may offer a made-to-order blazer where you get a choice of the fabric or lining color.

Made-to-order products can be highly personal and are truly made for each individual. This is a valuable offering to customers, but does come at a higher cost to the brand to produce. A made-to-order model isn’t really able to leverage the efficiencies of bulk production. 


More common for high-end garments, a made-to-measure (MTM) production model offers fit customization to customers. The brand may have a set collection of styles, but instead of standard sizes, the piece is made to fit the measurements of the individual client. This allows for a personalized fit as well as any other fabric or color options the brand may offer. 

Made-to-measure is an investment in a special experience for the customer as well as a great way for the brand to fit each customer beautifully. The cost is high, though, as there are patternmaking costs to adjust the measurements for each order in addition to the cost to cut and sew an individual piece. 


A truly one-of-a-kind, custom outfit is the result of a bespoke production model. In this model, everything from the design, fabrics, and fit is custom to the client. A bespoke garment is a commissioned piece that takes multiple fittings and usually months to make. This model is prevalent in special occasion wear like bridal, tailoring, and mens suiting as it commands a high price tag. Producing bespoke clothing requires mastery in design, fit, and construction. Individual designers or ateliers are more suited for bespoke production than factories as they can devote more attention to the whole customer experience of getting a custom outfit designed and made. 

Fashion can be produced using a variety of different production models that range from high-volume, low personalization to one-off, highly custom. Each has pros and cons for your budget, production timeline, and customer experience. Which production model works best for your brand depends on your customer, the product you are making, and your values as a business. Which production model does your business use and why?


Edlira Sanxhaku

9:54 am May 12, 2023

I am glad to know more

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