The L.A. Apparel Industry Gets Involved in the Debate on Minimum Wage

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According to the Los Angeles Times, California’s newly proposed $15/hour minimum wage by 2022 could spur more local apparel manufacturers to exit the state if not leaving the country. For example, the American Apparel, the biggest clothing maker in Los Angeles, has announced it might wipe out about 500 local jobs and outsource the making of some garments to another manufacturer in the United States.

Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that the number of employment in the L.A. apparel manufacturing sector (NAICS315) decreased by around 32% from 61.8 thousand in 2005 to 42.0 thousand in 2015. Meanwhile, average hourly wage for sewing operators in California increased by around 25.5% from $8.98/hour to $11.27/hour. As another source,  the California Fashion Association says that the hourly wage for LA apparel workers was around $15/hour in 2014 (all occupations).

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, many apparel companies see L.A. increasingly become a difficult place to do business because of the expensive and limited commercial real estate, the rising pressures of raw material cost and the difficulty of finding sufficient skilled workers who can afford to live in the city. Companies expect the situation to get even worse after the minimum-wage hike further raises their operation expenses in the years to come.  

Some industry professionals suggest L.A. may “become for apparel what Silicon Valley is for technology: the hub for the design, but not the manufacturing, of products”. Data from the California Fashion Association shows that in May 2012, 3,770 independent fashion designers worked in Los Angeles, earning about $30 an hour in Orange County and $35 an hour in the L.A. County metro area. However, such a prospect is unclear given the advancement of technologies such as the CAD system which makes location less critical for fashion designers. On the other hand, L.A. is facing competitions from other apparel hubs such as the New York City for design businesses and talents.

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