Is Toll Manufacturing Effective in the Fashion Industry?

If you are looking to outsource production to a third-party company, toll manufacturing might come to your mind immediately. Never heard of it or just have a vague idea about how it works? Read on!

Put simply, toll manufacturing involves outsourcing production to a contract manufacturer, only that you will be responsible for providing the raw materials as well as the design direction needed for the production run. This is in contrast to contract manufacturing, where the third-party takes care of the entire manufacturing process.

Although used across several industries, the question then is: can it be effectively used in the fashion industry? To put it in another perspective, can you leverage toll manufacturing to produce apparel products effectively? The answer lies in this post.

What is Toll Manufacturing?

understanding toll manufacturing

Toll manufacturing, also known as toll processing, is an arrangement where a company (referred to as the “client”) provides raw materials or semi-finished goods to another company (the “toll manufacturer”). The toll manufacturer then uses its expertise and equipment to process those materials or finish the goods. After the manufacturing process is completed, the finished products are returned to the client, and the toll manufacturer is paid a fee for the manufacturing services provided.

Key Features of Toll Manufacturing

  • Client Supplies Materials: The key distinction in toll manufacturing is that the client supplies the raw materials or partially finished goods, along with the specifications for production.

  • Fee-based Service: The manufacturer charges a fee (the “toll”) for the processing of these materials, which can be more cost-effective than owning and operating a full production facility.

  • Expertise and Equipment: Toll manufacturers often specialize in specific types of processes or industries, providing high-quality results that might be difficult for the client to achieve on their own.

The Benefits of Toll Manufacturing

Here are some of the key benefits that make toll manufacturing a compelling choice for apparel brands:

Cost Savings on Investment

One of the primary advantages of toll manufacturing is the reduction in capital expenditures. Companies do not need to invest in expensive machinery, equipment, or the maintenance that comes with it. This can be particularly advantageous for small to medium-sized enterprises or startups that may not have the capital to invest in their own manufacturing facilities. By using a toll manufacturer, businesses can also save on the costs associated with hiring specialized staff and ongoing training.

Access to Specialized Expertise

Toll manufacturers often possess specialized expertise and advanced technology that may be inaccessible or cost-prohibitive for the client company to develop in-house. This expertise ensures that products are made to the highest standard, using the latest innovations in manufacturing technology. Companies can benefit from the toll manufacturer’s years of experience, quality control processes, and technical knowledge, leading to better product quality and innovation.

Enhanced Focus on Core Business Activities

Outsourcing the manufacturing process allows a company to concentrate its resources on core business functions such as research and development, marketing, and customer service. This focused approach can lead to greater innovation and improved competitiveness in the market, as the company can streamline its operations and allocate more resources towards activities that drive business growth and customer engagement.

Flexibility and Scalability

Toll manufacturing offers unparalleled flexibility, enabling companies to scale their production up or down based on market demand without the risks associated with owning a production facility. This flexibility can be crucial for companies dealing with seasonal products or those testing the market with new products. It allows businesses to respond quickly to market changes without significant financial risk or delay.

Reduced Risk and Liability

By outsourcing manufacturing, companies can mitigate the risk associated with the production process. The toll manufacturer assumes responsibility for the operational risks, including workplace safety, regulatory compliance, and environmental hazards. This shift in liability can be particularly beneficial for companies in highly regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals or chemicals.

Improved Efficiency and Speed to Market

Toll manufacturing can lead to more efficient production processes and shorter lead times. The expertise and specialization of toll manufacturers mean they can optimize production, reduce waste, and streamline operations, often resulting in faster production cycles. This efficiency can significantly shorten the time to market, offering a competitive advantage in fast-paced industries.

Cons of Toll Manufacturing

While toll manufacturing offers numerous advantages such as cost savings, flexibility, and access to specialized expertise, it’s essential to understand that this business model also comes with its own set of challenges and potential disadvantages. Here are some of the notable cons:

Reduced Control Over Production

One of the significant drawbacks of toll manufacturing is the diminished control a company has over its manufacturing processes. When production activities are outsourced, companies rely heavily on the toll manufacturer to adhere to specified quality standards and timelines. This can sometimes lead to issues with product quality if the manufacturer’s standards or attentiveness falter. Such discrepancies can impact the final product’s consistency and reliability, potentially harming the brand’s reputation.

Dependency on the Manufacturer

Engaging in toll manufacturing creates a dependency on the third-party manufacturer for critical operations. If the manufacturer faces disruptions due to logistical issues, resource shortages, or financial problems, these issues can directly impact the client’s business. Moreover, if the relationship with the manufacturer ends abruptly, finding and transitioning to a new manufacturer can be time-consuming and costly, potentially leading to production halts.

Intellectual Property Risks

When outsourcing production, companies may expose their intellectual property (IP) to potential risks. This is particularly concerning in industries where proprietary information, formulas, or designs are crucial competitive advantages. Even with strong contracts and confidentiality agreements, the risk of IP leakage or misuse can never be entirely eliminated.

Communication Challenges

Effective communication is crucial for the success of toll manufacturing agreements, but it can also be a significant challenge. Differences in time zones, language barriers, and cultural differences can complicate clear and timely communication. Miscommunications can lead to errors in production, misunderstandings regarding product specifications, or delays in shipment and delivery.

Best Practices in Toll Manufacturing

toll manufacturing apparel

1. Carefully Select Your Toll Manufacturer

Choosing the right toll manufacturer is perhaps the most critical step. The ideal partner should not only have the necessary technical capabilities but also a robust track record of reliability and quality. Assess potential manufacturers based on their:

  • Industry experience and reputation.

  • Financial stability.

  • Technological and operational capabilities.

  • Compliance with industry standards and certifications.

  • Past client reviews and testimonials.

2. Establish Clear and Detailed Agreements

A comprehensive contract is essential for a successful toll manufacturing partnership. This agreement should clearly outline:

  • The scope of work and specifications for the products.

  • Quality control measures and compliance standards.

  • Intellectual property rights and confidentiality terms.

  • Pricing structures and payment terms.

  • Conditions for termination and resolution of disputes.

3. Maintain Open Lines of Communication

Effective communication is vital to manage a toll manufacturing relationship. Regular updates, meetings, and reports can help ensure that both parties are aligned. Consider the following:

  • Schedule regular calls and visits to the manufacturing site.

  • Use project management tools to track progress and issues.

  • Establish key contacts within both organizations to streamline communication.

4. Implement Rigorous Quality Control Processes

Quality control is a significant concern in toll manufacturing. To ensure product quality, integrate these practices:

  • Develop detailed quality specifications for each product.

  • Require regular quality audits and product testing.

  • Set up feedback loops to quickly identify and correct any quality issues.

5. Plan for Intellectual Property Protection

Protecting your intellectual property (IP) is crucial when engaging with a toll manufacturer. Safeguard your IP by:

  • Ensuring that non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are signed by all involved parties.

  • Limiting access to your IP to only those who need it for the manufacturing process.

  • Monitoring the use and handling of your IP regularly.

6. Foster a Strategic Partnership

View your toll manufacturer not just as a service provider but as a strategic partner. This perspective can foster better collaboration and mutual benefit. Enhance this relationship by:

  • Sharing forecasts and future plans that may affect production.

  • Collaborating on process improvements and innovation.

  • Offering incentives for meeting or exceeding performance targets.

7. Continuously Evaluate and Improve

The business environment and market demands are always changing. Regularly reviewing and refining your manufacturing strategy can lead to continuous improvement and adaptation. Keep in mind:

  • Conduct periodic reviews of the partnership’s effectiveness.

  • Be open to renegotiating terms to reflect any new realities or requirements.

  • Stay informed about advancements in technology that could impact your production processes.


Toll manufacturing offers a pathway to growth and efficiency when managed correctly. When applied properly, it can work marvellously well for your apparel business.

Need a production management software to help you make the most of toll manufacturing? Schedule a demo to see why other fashion brands are using Uphance to streamline their production process.

Table of Contents