When Apparel “Made in China” Become More Expensive, Will U.S. Consumers Have to Pay More?

(This study was presented at the 2013 International Textile and Apparel Association Annual Conference)


Sheng Lu (University of Rhode Island) and Jessica Ridgeway (University of Missouri)

China’s soaring labor cost in recent years has triggered heated discussions on the future of “made in China” and its implication for U.S. consumers who rely heavily on “made in China” products (Rein, 2012). This is particularly the case in the U.S. apparel retail market, where over 98% of consumptions are supplied by imports and nearly 40% of them come from China in value (AAFA, 2012). Although numerous studies have been conducted to evaluate the relationship between imports and the U.S. domestic apparel production or employment (Martin, 2007), the direct linkage between the price of imports and the U.S. apparel retail price has seldom been explored. Because such a price linkage is the key to understand the implication of a more expensive “Made in China” for U.S. consumers, this study tries to fulfill the research gap and specifically investigate to which extent the U.S. apparel retail price is influenced by the price of U.S. apparel imports from China.

Through investigating the impact of the average unit price of U.S. apparel imports from China, the average unit price of U.S. apparel imports from sources other than China and the annual U.S. apparel retail sales on the annual U.S. consumer price index from 2001 to 2011 based on a revised Armington model, this study finds that:

First, for menswear, more expensive “made in China” will result in a higher retail price in the U.S. market. Specifically, the U.S. retail price is suggested to change by 0.137% in the same direction given a 1% change of the price of U.S. imports from China. Second, for womenswear, there is no evidence showing that the price of U.S. imports from China has statistically significant impact on the U.S. retail price Third, the U.S. apparel imports from China and from rest of the world are suggested to constitute higher degree of price elasticity of substitution for womenswear than for menswear.

Findings of this study contribute to the understanding of the direct price linkage between the U.S. apparel import market and the U.S. apparel retail market and have several important implications:

First, the results imply that when “made in China” becomes more expensive, U.S. consumers may not have to pay more, largely because of increased substitution supply from other apparel exporters. Second, the results suggest that the U.S. apparel market is highly competitive and suppliers may not own much market power in price determination despite their large market shares.Third, the results imply that although “made in China” may lose market share in the U.S. market when it becomes more expensive, the magnitude could vary by product categories.


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