Behind the Scenes of Fast Fashion

fast fashion - 2

Dr. Christina Moon, Assistant Professor in the School of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons New School for Design, has recently published an article in the Pacific Standard about the world behind fast fashion. The article can be found here:

Dr. Moon highlights points about the fast fashion industry and how it all began which will surely surprise any TMD/TM major. With that said, I highly recommend this article to all students in our field of study. It was surprising to discover that the fast fashion business was created by the Korean immigrants of Los Angeles, and progressed thanks to the help of their children who brought “Americanized cultural identities” to the table. As Dr. Moon points out, second generation Korean students became the driving force behind US fast fashion. A business coordinating all parts of the apparel manufacturing process such as design, production, logistics, wholesaling, and marketing is bound to be a recipe for success; however, I don’t know if I go as far to claim this business model “sparked an explosion of creativity.” With a two week production cycle as compared to a traditional three month production cycle, I don’t see too much room for innovation. Although, with our fast paced lifestyle and our becoming accustomed to easily attainable, inexpensive, and stylish clothing, innovation and creativity are most likely not at the top of a consumers list when shopping for a new outfit. As a TMD/TM student, what’s your take on fast fashion?

Any and all thoughts are more than welcome!

By MacKenzie Cahoone

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In 2011, the US Trade Representative Office announced a number of changes to the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), or called “CAFTA-DR fixes”. The changes intend to expand export opportunities for the U.S. textile industry under the CAFTA-DR and encourage a vibrant textile and apparel supply chain in the Western Hemisphere. Among the changes of particular significance is the change clarifying that certain monofilament sewing thread is now required to originate or be produced in the United States or the CAFTA-DR region in order for goods to qualify for preferential tariff treatment.  [You may think about within the territory of the CAFTA, which country actually has the capacity of making “thread”?] Before the fixes, some CAFTA-DR countries used cheaper threads from Asia which raised grave concerns by the textile manufacturers.

More technical details about the CAFTA-DR fixes can be found here.

PS–The Difference between Yarn and Thread:

yarn and thread

  • A thread is a type of yarn
  • A thread is used for sewing while a yarn can be used for many purposes such as knitting, weaving, embroidering, and crocheting, and so on
  • A thread is lighter in weight than a yarn in general
  • While a thread is used to sew pieces of fabrics together, yarn is used to weave an altogether new fabric

Textile and Apparel–Key Trade Terms (updated October 2015)

FTAThe following important trade terms for textile and apparel are supplementary to what we’ve learnt in class:

Cumulation – Yarns and/or fabrics from one FTA partner country to be used in another FTA partner country and qualify for duty-free benefits (In NAFTA and the future TPP agreement, cumulation is among FTA partners only) . Example: in CAFTA certain woven fabrics from Mexico (NAFTA) can be used for the manufacture of apparel in the CAFTA region and qualify for CAFTA benefits, i.e. duty-free access to the U.S. market.

Tariff Preference Level (TPL) – An exception to the rule of origin in FTAs that allows for a certain quantity of textile and apparel goods (usually yarns, fabrics and cut pieces) from a third-country (a country who is not a party to the agreement) to qualify for the FTA benefits. Example: Under the U.S.-Bahrain FTA, Bahrain can use up to 65 million sme of yarns and fabric from any other country and the products made from those yarns and fabrics (up to the 65 million limit) still qualify for duty-free access to the U.S. market.

807: a commonly used term (formerly utilized by US Customs) to describe a category of apparel which has been assembled in an overseas country from fabric pieces cut in the USA from fabric formed in any country. The duty levied on apparel imported under 807 is based only on the value added to the goods overseas rather than the whole customs value of the goods. This provision is now specified under code 9802.00.8065 of the USA’s Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS). This outward processing arrangement benefits mainly countries which are close to the USA—particularly those in the Caribbean Basin

807A: a commonly used term (formerly utilized by US Customs) to describe a category of apparel which has been assembled in an overseas country from fabric pieces cut and formed in the USA. The duty levied on apparel imported under 807A, a modification of 807, is based only on the value added to the goods overseas rather than the whole customs value of the goods. Also, goods imported under 807A are provided with almost unlimited access to the US market. This provision is specified under code 9802.00.8015 of the USA’s Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS).

Short Supply/Commercial Availability — Fibers, yarns, and fabrics determined not to be available in commercial quantities in a timely manner from within the FTA partner countries may be sourced from outside the countries for use in qualifying textile and apparel products. For example, a fabric that is determined not to be commercially available under the U.S.-Australia FTA may come from a third-party, i.e. China, be cut-and-assembled into a garment in Australia, and imported to the U.S. duty-free.

Square Meter Equivalents (SME) – A notional, common unit of quantity, constant across apparel categories. Conversion factors are used to convert units of quantity into SME. Common measurement used to determine specific quantities of yarns, fabric, and apparel allowed under exceptions to the rule of origin, i.e. TPLs, cumulation.

Third Country – A country outside of the FTA or preferential trade arrangement, but is not a party to the agreement and is not required to adhere to the rules of origin under the agreement but may supply inputs to the FTA countries.

Earned Import Allowance Program (EIAP)– Certain amount of apparel assembled in a FTA partner using U.S. yarn and fabric will allow certain amount of apparel assembled in that country using third party yarn and fabric also to enter the U.S. duty free. For example, under CAFTA-DR, every two square meter equivalent (SME) of apparel assembled in Dominican Republic using U.S. yarn and fabric allows one SME of apparel assembled in Dominican Republic using third party yarn and fabric to enter the U.S. duty free.

Wholly-Assembled – A good is wholly assembled if all of its components, of which there must be at least two, pre-existed in essentially the same condition as found in the finished good and were combined to form the finished good. For example, the sewing together of the sleeves and the body of a shirt would be considered to be wholly assembled.

Knit-to-Shape — A good is considered “knit-to-shape” if 50 percent or more of the exterior surface area of the good is formed by major parts that have been knitted or crocheted directly to the shape used in the good, with no consideration being given to patch pockets, appliqués, or the like. Minor cutting, trimming, or sewing of those major parts shall not affect the determination of whether a good is “knit-to-shape.”

Source: US Trade Representative Office; Office of Textile and Apparel, US Department of Commerce

Berry Amendment may Extend to Athletic Shoes, Benefiting New Balance and Other US-based Shoemakers


According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), under the pressure from the domestic shoe industry and lawmakers, the US Department of Defense (DOD) is evaluating the possibility of procuring athletic (running) shoes 100% made in the USA. Under a provision of 1941 legislation known as the “Berry Amendment” , DOD must buy clothing, fabrics, fibers, yarns, other made-up textiles, boots and certain other items that are 100% US-made. The exception can be made, however, if US manufacturers do not have the capacity to meet the procurement needs. This exception has been applied to athletic shoes for boot camp.  

US-based shoemakers are excited about this opportunity and trying to convince DOD that they have enough capacity to make shoes in the USA. Shoemakers say the initiative will add jobs both at their plants and at suppliers.

Statistics from the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) show that in 2012 98.6% of shoes consumed in the US were imported. The WSJ report cited the Boston-based New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc as the only US maker of athletic shoes with large-scale production in the US, although New Balance also imported 75% of its branded shoes from overseas.


2On the other hand, the Berry Amendment itself is not without controversy and future challenges. Cited in a recent CRS report, some policymakers believe that the Berry Amendment contradicts free trade policies and produces negative effects such as reducing the business incentive to modernize, causing inefficiency due to a lack of competition and causing higher costs to DOD.  Negotiations of new trade agreements also create uncertainties for the future of the Berry Amendment. For example, under the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negation, the European Union is seeking removal of “buy America” requirements such as the Berry Amendment to get more access to the US government procurement market.


The DOD announced on April 25, 2014 that it will require new recruits to use their footwear allowance to purchase athletic footwear that is compliant with the Berry Amendment, which requires the use of domestically sourced apparel and textile products.

Wolverine, which for the past several years has urged the Pentagon to procure athletic footwear manufactured in the US rather than purchasing foreign-made products, believes the move will significantly help support the country’s supply chain for US-made shoes.

The policy change comes after campaigns last year to require the Department of Defense (DOD) to treat athletic footwear like every other uniform item, including boots, and ensure that such items are bought from American manufacturers.

Estimates suggest the DOD has spent around $180m to date on the athletic footwear cash allowance programme. Until now it has issued cash allowances to new recruits for training shoes which are not required to be Berry-compliant.

Additional reading: Berry Amendment and the U.S. Textile Industry

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Exclusive Interview with Nate Herman, Vice President of the American Apparel and Footwear Association

NateHerman (Photo: Courtesy of the AAFA)

Nate Herman is the Vice President of the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA). Mr. Herman manages AAFA’s regulatory and legislative affairs activities, advocating on behalf of, and providing information to, the industry on international trade and corporate social responsibility issues. Mr. Herman also handles product safety, customs, transportation and other technical (slip resistance, safety toe, etc.) issues as well as labeling matters for AAFA’s footwear members as co-leader of AAFA’s Footwear Team.  In addition, Mr. Herman develops all apparel and footwear industry data and statistics as AAFA’s resident economist.  Prior to joining AAFA, Mr. Herman worked for six years at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) assisting U.S. firms in entering the global market. Mr. Herman spent the last two years as the Department’s industry analyst for the footwear and travel goods industries.

Interview Part

Sheng Lu: First of all, would you please make a brief introduction of AAFA to our students, including your history, your current members, your key missions and main functions?

Nate Herman: Representing more than 1,000 world famous name brands, the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) is the trusted public policy and political voice of the apparel and footwear industry, its management and shareholders, its four million U.S. workers, and its contribution of $350 billion in annual U.S. retail sales.  AAFA was formed in 2001 following a merger of the American Apparel Manufacturers Association and Footwear Industries of America.

AAFA stands at the forefront as a leader of positive change for the apparel and footwear industry.  With integrity and purpose, AAFA delivers a unified voice on key legislative and regulatory issues.  AAFA enables a collaborative forum to promote best practices and innovation.  AAFA’s comprehensive work ensures the continued success and growth of the apparel and footwear industry, its suppliers, and its customers.

We achieve these goals through aggressive advocacy on Capitol Hill and before the Administration on the issues most important to the U.S. apparel and footwear industry. AAFA also hosts more than 50 conferences, seminars, workshops, and webinars both in the United States and around the world to ensure the industry is able to comply with growing state, federal, and international regulations.

Sheng Lu: AAFA recently released a video clip “What do we wear”, which is very encouraging and eye-opening to our students. What makes AAFA create this video and what specific information you would like to deliver to the audiences?

Nate Herman: A few years ago, we were asked a question during a meeting with a top-ranking senator.  “What is the economic impact of your industry?”  We didn’t have an answer, which didn’t help policy makers see the important jobs within our industry and our significant contribution to the U.S. economy.  That led to the launch of our “We Wear” brand.

You see, when we get dressed each day, we wear more than clothes and shoes.  We wear four million U.S. jobs.  We wear intellectual property.  We wear social responsibility.  Our new video is a visual reminder of our important mission and economic impact.  We use it to educate policy makers, administration officials, the industry, and consumers about our industry and how vital we are to the overall health of the U.S. economy.

Sheng Lu: One phrase often used by AAFA is your member companies “produce globally and sell globally”. How should our students understand the global nature of today’s apparel industry?

Nate Herman: The apparel and footwear industry is on the frontlines of globalization.  In fact, our industry’s supply chain is the most global supply chain in the history of commerce.

Simply put: We are a nation of 330 million importers. In 2012, 97.5 percent of the apparel and 98 percent of the footwear sold in the United States was produced internationally. This model allows families to spend less of their family budgets on clothing and shoes while still getting more bang for their buck.

Sourcing is made possible through strong and positive trade relationships with a variety of countries, including China, Mexico, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Colombia, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and more.  Companies even source product from the United States.  Sourcing decisions are often made through serious processes that evaluate a country’s trade programs, environmental record, social responsibility standards, intellectual property protections, material and labor costs, shipping time, and reliability of sourcing partners.

At the same time, don’t ignore the rest of the world.  The United States only represents just five percent of the world’s population.  So when a company sources from China or Vietnam, they are sending products all over the world through a complex supply chain.  One of our goals at AAFA is to help ensure the entire world has access to world famous U.S. name brands.

Sheng Lu: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are two buzzwords nowadays. From the perspective of AAFA, why should the US apparel industry care about these two agreements? 

Nate Herman: Trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) offer U.S. name brands direct market access to new sourcing and retail markets.  For example, the United States and the European Union, under TTIP, accounts for more than 40 percent of global clothes and shoes retail sales.

Trade agreements also provide opportunities to harmonize regulations to make it easier to do business in the global market.  For instance, the United States maintains strict product safety standards.  Through trade agreements, we can make regulations consistent to ensure if a shirt is safe in one country it’s safe in another.  This prevents redundant testing costs, which ultimately makes clothes and shoes cheaper for consumers.

Sheng Lu: Last year, several tragedies happened in the Bangladesh garment factories raised the public awareness of the corporate social responsibility issues in the apparel sector. How has the tragedy changed the business practices in the apparel sector from your observation?

Nate Herman: Over the past year, the U.S. apparel and footwear industry has rallied together to address significant social responsibility challenges, including worker safety.  In fact, we’ve never seen the industry come together so fully in a spirit of collaboration.  Safety inspections, training, and fire safety prevention have been or are now part of many companies’ compliance programs.  AAFA supported the creation of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, an industry-led effort to prevent future tragedies in Bangladesh.  While all these positive steps encourage us, we know our social responsibility and environmental work will never be finished.  We can always do better.

Sheng Lu:  Look ahead in 2014, what top issues in the apparel industry you would suggest our students to watch?

Nate Herman: 2014 is already shaping up to be a busy year for the U.S. apparel and footwear industry.  One major trend we are watching is the continued growth of e-commerce and Omni-channel retail.  You see, the point of sale is just the starting point of a long – and global – supply chain.  We will see sourcing patterns and business models change as retail shifts away from brick-and-mortar shopping to online e-commerce.  We are now beginning to focus on new ideas like online privacy and data security, terms the industry didn’t have to focus on 10 years ago.


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