What Does “Factory Asia” Mean for the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry?


Slide38As we discussed in class, following the “flying geese pattern”, countries in Asia form a dynamic division of labor in textile and apparel (T&A) manufacturing. Although China may gradually lose its comparative advantage in labor-intensive apparel manufacturing, it will continue playing a critical role in “Factory Asia” (i.e. Asia-based T&A supply chain). As results, Asia will remain a giant player in T&A production and export in the years to come.

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Another important feature of “Factory Asia” is regional integration–Asian countries tend to use more and more T&A inputs from within Asia rather than from outside the region. This may improve the internal efficiency of “Factory Asia”, but also may make it harder for T&A companies outside Asia to get access to the Asian market.


So, what is your view on “Factory Asia”? What are the implications of “Factory Asia” for the U.S. T&A industry? Can the Trans-Pacific Partnership potentially shape new T&A supply chain in the Asia-Pacific region? What market opportunities does the Asia-Pacific region present to the US T&A industry? Please feel free to share your view and any other questions in your mind about the Asia-Pacific region. 

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Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

28 thoughts on “What Does “Factory Asia” Mean for the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry?”

  1. I agree with these statements suggesting that Asia will always be prominent in the Textile and Apparel Industry. I found it interesting to learn that Asia mainly only sources from inside Asia. I believe that this is how they are sustaining themselves in the industry and growing stronger. However, I am also reminded of historical United Sates. The United States used to source only from inside the country. That has since changed, which has drastically impacted the dynamic of the Textile and Apparel Industry in the United States. I wonder if that will also happen to Asia in a matter of time. Will they start outsourcing, leading to a drastic shift in the dynamic of their industry?

    1. great comment and question! My personal observation is regionalism (or regional economic integration) is strengthening in Asia. You can find all types of economies in Asia (developed countries like Japan, emerging economies like China and India as well as countries just start to industrialize such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and Myanmar). This implies that there is no strong economic incentive for Asian countries to source from outside the region. Personally I don’t think this pattern will significantly change in the near future. Asia itself is becoming a more and more important apparel consumption market. This suggests that companies (even western fashion brands) will continue investing in Asia-based apparel supply chain. Speed to market also applies to Asia. Nevertheless, there are so many possibilities in the region. So keep watching Asia and think big with your imaginations~

  2. I believe “factory Asia” is a growing success and will continue to grow in the future. This alliance between Asian countries will be beneficial to these countries, but will be excluding other countries that are also involved in the Textile and Apparel industry, like the U.S. This concept can be inspiring for competing countries to act similarly. This can also be frightening to competing countries because it could affect their trade markets negatively. Specializing in a certain type of production could possibly get rid of corresponding jobs in these Asian countries. China will no longer participate in apparel manufacturing and will give all the U.S. business to developing countries, like Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia (even more than they already have). However, these developing countries will have the opportunity to participate in more fabric manufacturing. This could allow these developing countries to generate more capital and trade opportunities in apparel manufacturing. This could help their economy and maybe solve the devastating issues of labor ethics. As “factory Asia” is helping Asian countries it could be hurting competing countries.

    Some implications for the U.S T& A industry can include less exports of textiles to competing countries. While “factory Asian” becomes increasingly unsinkable these countries will not need to trade with us at all. In the future, these countries may be able to outrun us in textile machinery, fiber and yarn production and fabric production; developing countries will become more efficient in apparel manufacturing. Similar to now, the U.S. will have no choice but to turn to Asian apparel manufacturing because the labor will be cheaper since it is more specialized and enhanced. There will be more competition in trading with the U.S. between Asian countries and Mexico/ Central American countries.

    The Trans-Pacific Partnership can potentially shape new T&A supply chain in the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S could possibly stop trading with Mexico/ Central American countries. If U.S. imports less apparel from Mexico/ Central American countries, then Mexico/Central American countries will import less textiles (yarn & fabrics) from the U.S. Competition in the export of apparel with the U.S. will increase between Mexico/ Central American and Vietnam/ Asian Countries.
    U.S. will import apparel products from Vietnam, and will import textiles and apparel from China and other countries. Due to “factory Asia”, the product exported will be of better quality and the process will be a more efficient supply chain. The U.S. will most likely trade with Asian countries because of the cheaper and more efficient products.

    The Asia-Pacific region will present many market opportunities to the U.S. T& A industry. They will provide them with cheaper products, quicker. This will open up new export opportunities, moving from a domestic market to an international market. Textile technology and machinery will upgrade, allowing function to move from manufacturing to design. These new technologies can be adapted from countries around the world and infrastructure issues will decrease. Asia is a growing market, removing barriers to allow free trade in the region. Increasing globalization and the free movement of goods and capital through technology. Eventually growing in capital prosperity. Allowing an increase in overall sophistication of the T& A industry.

    1. Great thoughts and excellent comments! I agree with many of your great points! Two additional comment: 1. Although there are many discussions on apparel manufacturing coming back to the US given China’s rising wage level, I don’t think reshoring will easily happen. To be noted that US apparel industry (or those apparel made in mexico) is not just competing with “Made in China” nor “Made in Vietnam” but rather the Asia-based apparel supply chain. In the next 10 years, I think Asia will continue dominating apparel manufacturing and exports in the world. 2. I think Asia presents a great model for industry upgrading. Remember, apparel manufacturing is often used to trigger industrialization, but ideally a country should gradually have a more diversified industry base (i.e.be able to make more advanced and sophisticated industrial products other than apparel). In many parts of the world, such as Senegal, industrial upgrading is not happening. Mexico is another example. 20 years after the implementation of NAFTA, Mexico still heavily relies on textile imports from the US rather than having its own textile industry. This makes Mexico’s apparel exports only can compete in the US markets. It is interesting to see how Asia’s flying geese model can be applied to other regions.

  3. The data shows factory Asia to be power house in the T&A industry and are showing no signs of slowing down. I find this to be a bit overwhelming for countries that are trying to enter the market. At this growing rate I see US T&A industries being kicked out of the market for producing texting as it looking like they wont be needed in this new system. I do believe TPP will reshape a new T&A supply chain in the Asia-Pacific region and give Asia the advantage over everyone else. I see opportunities for the US importing sector, I believe this could benefit the US market for consuming goods but not beneficial for exporting T&A. My question would be, if jobs are being exported more and more to Asia and they contain the majority of the jobs and power, how will the rest of the people in the word be able to afford these products that Asia are producing ?

    1. great comment and question! I have three personal comments: 1. As we mentioned in the class, apparel industry is more than the industry of apparel manufacturing. Looking at the US fashion industry for example, even though less and less production is happening here, more and more new jobs related to marketing, branding and supply chain mismanagement are created here. So I don’t think Asia will take away all jobs from rest of the world. 2. Comparative advantage theory applies to Asia as well. “factory Asia” may be very competitive in certain areas or industries, but it won’t dominate everything 3. I think one key issue facing policymakers in the US is how to encourage Asia keeping its door open to the outside world.

  4. My view on “Factory Asia” is that Asia is and will continue to be an important player in the textile and apparel industry. They are constantly growing to become more powerful by importing only from within itself. I believe “Factory Asia” can seem threatening to the U.S. T&A industry because they’re not relying as much on other countries for sourcing. I do not think the U.S. or Trans-Pacific Partnership has to worry too much because once Asia becomes stronger in its economy, I think they will start to expand their sources to become stronger. With Asia producing more products, everyone in the Asia-Pacific will benefit.

    1. good thinking. I think what worries the US textile industry is “factory Asia” will continue to threaten the regional production-trade network in the Western Hemisphere. It should be noted that not all products made in Asia are consumed in Asia–a good portion of them actually is exported to other regions in the world. This is why Vietnam is regarded as a big problem in TPP. However, one thing probably “factory Asia” is not making yet–i.e. the brand.

  5. I agree with all of these views stated above. Asia will in fact stay a huge player but China will have to make room for up and coming T&A countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh. These underdeveloped countries have room for improvement and can take on new responsible within the next ten years. I do not think the US should be too worried about Asia because we’ve already been through hard times. The US T&A industry has already lost jobs and now were starting to regain them. We now have new jobs for Americans that aren’t going anywhere. Certainly, Asia is good at what they do, but other parts of the world are good at their jobs as well. They aren’t going to come a worldly power and take over the entire T&A industry, it just won’t happen. Asia should keep their door open to the outside world because they do so much for everyone. Eventually Asia will want their conditions to improve and their wages as well and thats a choice we as an industry is going to have to take.The TPP would shape a new supply chain for Asia Pacific and help them out but I feel as if, if they become more powerful it can become a problem with trading. This will also benefit Asia Pacific though and help them as a whole. Improving trade with the US and Asia Pacific would definitely help everyone because the US mainly outsources their products. My question is, If Factory Asia gets too powerful, what could be the worst possible outcome?

    1. great comment and very interesting question! If you check this blog post: https://tmd433.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/world-textile-and-apparel-trade-update-august-2014/

      you can see “factory Asia” is further gaining market share in world T&A exports. You can say Asia deserves it because labor there is cheap, people work hard and its product is competitive. However, you can also say it is unfair–if Asia dominates the world T&A market, how about many less developed countries in other parts of the world? They also need to export T&A so as to earn revenues, create jobs and move their economy forward (think about Haiti). Just like the T-shirt book, I feel T&A trade involves many ethical issues with no clear answer here.

  6. While reading through the information there were a couple key things that came to mind. It is apparent to me that even though this pattern was seen in the United States history this situation is way different. Asia is doing something that, in my opinion, all under developed countries should try to do. They should be trying their hardest to take responsibility and build their economy. They are doing an excellent job in upgrading within their textile and apparel industry and I couldn’t be more happier for them. I see when people make the argument that they are our competitors but for the USA to become stronger we need to help and root for the under developed countries to succeed. Even though we may not directly benefit from this I think it will help us in the long run to support what they are doing. Also, it will benefit the USA in where can source from. I feel like this is a step in the right direction for them! GO ASIA!

  7. Japan and China have a lot of long standing ideological conflicts. Economics and commerce have served as a driving force to quiet these conflicts. To me, Factory Asia represents the positive powers of industrialization, and a multi-nation supply chain to achieve diplomacy along mutually beneficial lines. It could serve as a model for other regions building industry from a labor intensive advantage.

    Factory Asia will continue to thrive, productivity (largely in part due to automation) in the region continues to increase solidifying Asian preeminence in manufacturing. In spite of rising wages in Asia the speed to market ( and access to said markets) and a diverse range of accessible resources are also contributing tools to Factory Asia’s endurance.

    Southeast Asia’s development in manufacturing is increasing due to China’s next generation aspiring to careers outside of manufacturing. Factory Asia will continue along a trajectory of nations like Vietnam building manufacturing. As Factory Asia grows along multi-national lines the opportunity for an increasingly sophisticated constituency to set the rules as evidenced by China’s multi-lateral development bank, the AIIB. What does that mean for the future of the global rules?

    Today Factory Asia is far more complex than cheaper labor and comparative advantage. Factory Asia is a major player that is evolving every day.

  8. The comments above are very interesting because I did not think about some of the aspects. Overall, Asia is a large player in the textile and apparel industry and it was surprising to me that even Asia sources for Asia. Some may say that once you become so big and successful, there is a fall waiting to happen, will there be a fall for Asia? In my opinion Asia knows what they are doing and it will take e a long time for them to crash. They source for so many countries and companies that if Asia falls, we all fall with them. I think the U.S. is very dependent on Asia’s economy and even though the U.S. economy has fallen and gone through hard times it will take a lot for Asia to follow. We necessarily do not want Asia to fall because that means we all go down with them.

  9. Asia will always be a prominent factor in The Textile and Apparel Industry. One of the main reasons I think they are able to be so successful is that they mainly source within Asia. That is a very lucrative and smart way to keep the wealth in their nation. I think that if the US had the resource that Asia does to source within our country we would be much well off. But because the US relies so heavily on imports that how connected the T&A industry globally. So at the same time it would be beneficial for the US to have the resources Asia does but what would the T&A industry be globally? Would we even have relationships with developing countries and would these countries even be fall into the developing category without our needed imports.

  10. I think that “Factory Asia” will continue to sustain itself for the near future, however sometime down the road I think that other countries will begin to trickle into play as well. I think that it is very interesting that Asia receives most of its T&A imports from other parts of Asia. I think that the implications of “Factory Asia” for the U.S. T&A industry are less domestic production for the US which is hard because that is what many people are attempting to move towards. I think it is good for large corporations in the US though because it means a lower cost of labor wages. The US already relies so heavily on Asian made textiles and apparel and I don’t think that will change any time soon despite the fact that the US tried to be protectionist and it did not work and when Asia tries they might fail. The only difference is that Asia has more opportunity then the US did as well as a stronger base of T&A exports and workers.

  11. Factory Asia is so lucrative and successful because as seen in the graphs above, they import both textiles and apparel mainly from countries in Asia. Companies keep the wealth and business close to home and rarely import from the U.S. America can learn a few things from Asia-Pacific region for the above reasons. Although Japan and China are ever growing from their success, some may believe we should be worried. But, countries that are not developed in their economy or the T&A sector will benefit from Asia’s success. Asia will begin to source from other parts of the world and begin to trickle even farther overseas, regions like U.S. But, instead of outsourcing from outside Asia, will they continue to keep the wealth or move abroad. Time can only tell.

    1. Two critical questions in my view: 1. is there a chance for the U.S. Textile industry to participate in the Asia-based supply chain? 2. Can us maintain the Western Hemisphere supply chain before asia’s competition?

  12. I feel as though Asia will always remain a major competitor in the Textile and apparel industry. Its large labor force will always give it a comparative advantage and not to mention the growing capita and technology in countries such as China and Japan. The fact that it mainly sources most of its materials with in the continent is a great aspect to its success. Sourcing and raw material imports is one of the biggest issues U.S. faces today and the fact that countries in Asia only have to look too neighboring countries with in the region gives it a great advantage. I feel as though Asia is very independent and a continent that would survive without the influence of the U.S. in both manufacturing textile and apparel so it’s probably a good strategy for U.S to build a close relationship so it does not get left behind later on and TPP can help create that relationship between Asia and U.S.

  13. I would say that it is a certain thing that Asia will be the new US in the coming years, where instead of everyone in the world looking more to the US and E.U as rule setters they will become the “top dog” in the T&A industry. Not only because of they’re humongous population and growing T&A market but also for their diversity as a continent to have very different economies within like Bangladesh, Vietnam etc. not making it necessary for them to look outside for sourcing. Which can hurt other countries if they don’t try to enter the Asian market soon. Although manufacturing we might loose the battle with Asia we however still have more knowledge in the supply chain and retail that the Asian market will need to be successful.

  14. I feel that the advantage that Asia is maintaining regarding their T&A industry is very beneficial. It is slowly working to strengthen their domestic industry, while at the same time is growing further and further with respect to globalized trade. With fast growing emergent markets and a vast labor force, Asian countries are at the forefront of observance by the rest of the world who is waiting to see what each of their T&A industries will transform into. With the potential of the TPP becoming evermore evident, I feel that Asia will have more presence in the global industry than ever before.

  15. In my opinion, I think that Asia has a very good chance on becoming like the United States. They have a extremely large and growing population as well as a large and diverse economy. With so many places such as Vietnam and China, they will not need to go outside for other sources.

  16. I believe that Asia is definitely a very important player in the textile and apparel industry. I agree with the comment above that if they continue the way they are headed they could end up like the United States. They are doing themselves a huge favor by keeping their imports domestic. Since they have such a high population they do not need to use other sources and with Asia producing more products their whole community will benefit.

  17. Asian countries play a very important role in the textile and apparel industry, and they will continue to play an important role. I think that all economies are advancing, but someone always has to be doing the labor intensive jobs for low price to keep up with world demand. I think that the countries producing the apparel will continue to shift as economies grow, but Asian countries will continue to be an important part of the textile and apparel global industry. I think just like labor intensive jobs are starting to leave China and move to other Asian nations, there will be a continues shifts to the least developed nations.

  18. After reading this article and learning a bit more about “Factory Asia” I believe that this movement is going to continue to be successful. Since Asia mainly sources from inside Asia is definitely beneficial and will aid in sustaining themselves as well as growing bigger and stronger in the T&A industry. Factory Asia could possibly be considered a blue print for developing countries to eventually create more capital,employment and trade opportunities in the T&A industry. “Factory Asia” in my opinion is a great movement!

  19. “Factory Asia” should be used as a platform for countries such as Japan, China, and other Asian countries to expand and grow economically. It should also be used as a blueprint for other countries to develop through textile and apparel. Labor intensive countries must start somewhere before become capital intensive and the T&A industry gives countries a place to start. It only makes sense that countries move from textile production to apparel production once they are able to. I believe that Africa will develop a thriving textile industry within the next 10 years because they are at the perfect place to economically to start building. Textiles is the perfect place to start considering they are a labor intensive country and also located in the middle of the world.

  20. I find this entire topic very interesting. When you think about apparel industry, the country that comes to most peoples mind is China, because we have been so used to seeing the majority of our clothing and products with a label that says made in China. However, as this article says, over the past years, other countries in Asia have been catching up to China in the Textile and Apparel Industry and will soon outrun it. China will still be a big contender in the industry, it just won’t be as powerful as it has been in the past. I am interested to see what happens over the course of 20-30 years in regards to this. Maybe China will find a way to get back on top, maybe an entirely new continent will be on top, possibly the United States?

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