Bureau of Labor Statistics: Manufacturing-related Fashion Jobs Continue to Drop in the U.S.

A recent study released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that manufacturing-related fashion jobs in the United States will continue to drop through 2020. Although the occupation of sewing machine operator is projected to face the most significant shrinkage in employment, the job decline is suggested to be an industry-wide phenomenon. According to the BLS, from 2003 to 2012, the U.S. apparel manufacturing industry (NAICS 315) had lost 57.7% of its jobs.

The question open for discussion, yet critical for textile& apparel major college graduates, is that how might the decline in manufacturing affect the destiny of other aspects of the U.S. fashion industry in the long run, such as the design and product development functions. No industry sector can survive as an island. As argued by the world’s leading scholar on the subject Michael Porter in his numerous studies addressing the industry competitiveness, the availability and strength of the local supporting industries have a key role to play in shaping the competitiveness of an industry in a nation. For example, the reason why the United States remains the world leading man-made fiber producer today is largely because the U.S. chemistry industry is able to provide needed inputs (such as raw material, technology and knowhow). By the same token, if fabrics are no longer locally made, compared with their overseas competitors such as Italy and China, the U.S. fashion designers might also be put at a big disadvantage in sourcing the needed material and developing the sample products in a timely manner, with flexible choices and at a reasonable cost.

Technology is another critical  factor contributing to job decline in the U.S. fashion industry. As the 2008 study Forecasting the US fashion industry with industry professionals—Part I material and design concluded that “design and production processes would rely heavily on computer and digital technology…the apparel package in the U.S., including creative design, will possibly migrate offshore with the exceptions of heavily technology-involved design and product development tasks.”   

In the meanwhile, the retail sector remains a robust job creator for textile & apparel major college graduates. From 2003 to 2012, total employment in the U.S. apparel retail industry (NAICS 4482) increased 5.7%. By 2012, almost 80% of the occupations in the U.S. textile and apparel industry were offered by retailers. 

by Sheng Lu

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