Make-to-Order Production: A Guide for Fashion Brands

Are you looking to go lean with your production by only producing the exact quantity of products needed to meet customers’ demand, thus minimizing excess inventory? Make-to-order (MTO) production is the way to go!

At its core, MTO is a manufacturing process where products are built once an order is received, making each item bespoke to the customer’s specifications. This model stands in stark contrast to the traditional make-to-stock (MTS) approach, where products are produced in large quantities and stored until sold.

In this post, we will explore the many benefits MTO has to offer and how you can make the most of it in streamlining your operations.

What is Make-to-Order Production?

Make to order production

Make-to-Order production is a manufacturing method where the production process begins only after a customer’s order is received. Unlike the traditional production strategy that rests on the make-to-stock (MTS) model, where products are produced in anticipation of future demand and stored until sold, MTO focuses on producing items specifically tailored to each customer’s requirements. This method is particularly prevalent in industries where customization is key — from fashion and furniture to electronics and beyond.

Benefits of Make-to-Order Production System

Tailored to Perfection: The Customization Advantage

At the heart of MTO production is its unparalleled capacity for customization. In contrast to the one-size-fits-all approach of mass production, MTO allows businesses to tailor products to the exact specifications of each customer. This level of personalization fosters a deeper connection between the product and the consumer, enhancing satisfaction and loyalty. Whether it’s custom-fitted apparel, personalized gadgets, or bespoke furniture, MTO empowers customers to receive products that reflect their unique needs and tastes.

Inventory Efficiency: Reducing Waste and Costs

One of the most compelling advantages of MTO is its ability to dramatically reduce inventory costs and minimize waste. Since products are only manufactured once an order is placed, businesses can sidestep the pitfalls of overproduction and unsold stock that plague traditional manufacturing models. This not only frees up storage space and capital but also aligns with the growing consumer demand for sustainable and environmentally responsible practices. By producing what is needed, when it’s needed, companies can achieve a leaner, more efficient operation.

Enhanced Flexibility and Responsiveness

MTO production offers businesses an unmatched level of flexibility, enabling them to adapt quickly to market trends, customer preferences, and material availability. This agility is particularly valuable in industries where trends can shift rapidly, allowing companies to pivot without the burden of unsold inventory from previous seasons. Furthermore, this model facilitates a more responsive supply chain that can adjust in real time to fluctuations in demand, ensuring that businesses can meet their customers’ needs without delay.

Strengthened Supply Chain Relationships

The MTO model fosters closer relationships between manufacturers and their suppliers, as collaboration becomes essential to meet specific customer demands efficiently. This symbiosis encourages transparency and communication, leading to improvements in material quality, delivery times, and overall supply chain reliability. As a result, businesses can enjoy smoother operations, fewer disruptions, and a stronger foundation for growth.

Competitive Differentiation in the Market

In today’s crowded marketplace, differentiation is key to capturing attention and building brand loyalty. MTO production allows businesses to stand out by offering unique, customizable products that cater to the individualized desires of their customers. This not only positions a company as innovative and customer-focused but also creates barriers to entry for competitors unable to match this level of personalization.

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The Make-to-Order Process

A typical make-to-order production strategy can involve the following 5 steps, although they can vary greatly.

Step 1: Receiving and Managing Customer Orders

The journey begins when a customer places an order, detailing their specific requirements. This stage is critical, as it sets the foundation for the entire production process. Effective communication channels and order management systems are vital to ensure accuracy in capturing customer specifications and translating them into actionable production plans. Companies must invest in robust CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems to streamline this process, ensuring that every detail is accurately recorded and communicated to the production team.

Step 2: Design and Specification Finalization

Once the order is captured, the details are reviewed to finalize the design and specifications of the product. This step often involves direct communication with the customer to clarify requirements and make necessary adjustments. For businesses offering highly customizable products, this stage is crucial to ensure that the final product meets the customer’s expectations. Advanced CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software can play a significant role here, enabling designers to create detailed models that can be easily adjusted according to customer feedback.

Step 3: Production Scheduling

With the design and specifications finalized, the next step is to procure the raw materials needed and schedule the production. This involves planning and allocating resources, such as materials, equipment, and labor, to ensure that the product can be manufactured within the desired timeframe. Effective production scheduling is essential to maintain efficiency and minimize lead times, requiring a careful balance of resource management and flexibility to accommodate changes or unforeseen challenges.

Step 4: Manufacturing

The heart of the MTO process is the manufacturing stage, where the product is brought to life according to the customer’s specifications. This stage demands a high degree of precision and quality control to ensure that the final product aligns with the agreed-upon design and quality standards. Technologies such as 3D printing and CNC machining can offer significant advantages in MTO production, allowing for rapid, accurate, and cost-effective manufacturing of customized parts.

Step 5: Delivery to the Customer

The final step in the MTO process is the delivery of the finished product to the customer. This stage emphasizes the importance of logistics and supply chain management, ensuring that the product is delivered safely, efficiently, and within the promised timeframe. Transparent communication with the customer regarding shipping and delivery status can enhance the overall customer experience, cementing their satisfaction and loyalty.

Make-to-Order vs. Make-to-Stock: Understanding the Key Differences

make to order vs make to stock

Let’s delve into the key distinctions between MTO and MTS, shedding light on their operational dynamics and suitability for different business models.

Definition and Approach

Make-to-Order (MTO) is a manufacturing strategy where products are only made once a customer order is received. This approach ensures that each item is customized to the customer’s specifications, leading to higher levels of personalization. MTO is particularly favored in industries where customization is a key value proposition, such as bespoke furniture, tailored clothing, or specialized machinery.

Make-to-Stock (MTS), on the other hand, involves producing goods in anticipation of future customer demand. Products are manufactured based on forecasts and then stocked until they are sold. This approach is common in industries with more predictable demand patterns and products that require less customization, such as consumer goods, electronics, and standard apparel.

Inventory Management

One of the most significant differences between MTO and MTS lies in inventory management. MTO eliminates the need for holding finished goods inventory, as products are produced after an order is placed. This can lead to reduced storage costs and less risk of unsold inventory. However, it requires a well-organized supply chain to ensure raw materials and components are available when needed.

MTS, in contrast, requires a substantial investment in inventory, as products must be manufactured and stored in advance. While this approach can lead to quicker fulfillment times since products are readily available for shipment, it also increases the risk of overstocking or obsolescence, particularly if demand forecasts are inaccurate.

Customer Satisfaction and Lead Times

MTO offers a high degree of customization, which can significantly enhance customer satisfaction. Consumers are willing to wait longer for products that precisely meet their needs and preferences. However, the lead times in MTO can be a double-edged sword, as the time from order to delivery is typically longer than MTS, potentially leading to customer impatience or lost sales if competitors offer quicker solutions.

MTS aims to minimize lead times by having products available for immediate shipment, which can be a critical factor in customer satisfaction for standard items with high demand. The challenge here is ensuring that inventory levels closely match customer demand to avoid stockouts or excessive surplus.

Flexibility and Risk

MTO provides businesses with greater flexibility to adapt to changing customer preferences and market trends, as production is directly tied to customer orders. This approach reduces the risk associated with inventory obsolescence and allows for continuous improvement of products based on customer feedback. However, MTO can also pose risks related to supply chain disruptions and the need for highly efficient production processes to meet customer deadlines.

MTS requires businesses to accurately forecast demand, a process fraught with uncertainty. The risk of misjudging market demand can lead to significant financial implications, either from lost sales due to stockouts or reduced margins from having to clear excess stock. Nonetheless, MTS allows for economies of scale in production, potentially leading to lower unit costs and higher profit margins on high-volume products.

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Best Practices for Thriving in Make-to-Order Production

Here are critical strategies to optimize your MTO production process, ensuring you not only meet but exceed customer expectations while maintaining operational excellence.

1. Streamline Communication Channels

Clear and effective communication between customers, sales teams, and production units is paramount in MTO production. Implementing robust CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems and project management tools can facilitate seamless information flow, ensuring that customer specifications are accurately captured and communicated. Real-time updates and transparent communication channels can also enhance customer satisfaction by keeping them informed throughout the production process.

2. Enhance Supply Chain Agility

The ability to quickly respond to varying customer demands is a cornerstone of successful MTO production. Building strong relationships with suppliers and maintaining a flexible supply chain can significantly reduce lead times and improve responsiveness. Consider diversifying your supplier base and leveraging technology for better supply chain visibility and coordination. Agile supply chain practices allow for quicker adjustments to production schedules, materials sourcing, and delivery processes, ensuring that customer orders are fulfilled efficiently.

3. Invest in Advanced Technologies

Technological advancements play a crucial role in streamlining MTO production processes. From CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software for precise product customizations to ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems for integrated operation management, technology can drive significant efficiencies. Additionally, adopting automation and AI for tasks such as scheduling, inventory management, and quality control can enhance accuracy and reduce manual errors, leading to faster turnaround times and higher-quality products.

4. Implement Robust Quality Control Measures

In MTO production, where each product is uniquely tailored to individual specifications, maintaining high quality is critical. Establish stringent quality control protocols at every stage of the production process to ensure that products meet or exceed customer expectations. Regularly review and update these protocols to incorporate feedback and continuous improvement processes, which can help in identifying potential issues early and prevent costly reworks or returns.

5. Foster a Flexible Production Environment

Flexibility is key in MTO production, requiring adaptable production lines that can handle varying product designs and specifications efficiently. Modular production setups, cross-trained employees, and versatile machinery can provide the necessary flexibility to switch between product types quickly without significant downtime. Creating a culture of continuous learning and improvement among staff can also drive innovation and efficiency in the production process.

6. Prioritize Detailed Planning and Forecasting

While MTO does not typically allow for long-term production planning due to its reactive nature, effective short-term planning and forecasting are still vital. Utilize historical order data, customer trends, and market analysis to forecast demand for materials and capacity planning. This proactive approach can help in optimizing inventory levels, workforce allocation, and production scheduling, ensuring resources are used efficiently.

7. Embrace Customer Feedback

In an MTO model, customer feedback is invaluable for refining products and services. Establish channels for gathering post-delivery feedback to understand customer satisfaction levels and areas for improvement. This direct input can inform product design improvements, enhance customization options, and strengthen customer relationships, fostering loyalty and repeat business.


Make-to-Order production represents a paradigm shift in manufacturing, one that prioritizes flexibility, sustainability, and customer satisfaction. By embracing the opportunities and challenges it presents, businesses can position themselves at the forefront of the manufacturing revolution, ready to meet the demands of the modern consumer.

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