Debate on Sourcing and Manufacturing in the U.S. Apparel Industry–Discussion Questions from FASH455


(Figure source: USITC 2016 Shifts in US Merchandise Trade)

The value and future of apparel “Made in the USA”

#1 What are the primary obstacles in bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States? Why or why not the labor cost is a detrimental factor?

#2 Shall policymakers encourage “jobless recovery” in the U.S. apparel manufacturing sector—meaning using more machines to make apparel but with empty factory floors?

#3 If apparel manufacturing generates the lowest added value to the final product, why not just let it go? Isn’t most U.S. apparel brands and retailers which moved production overseas and invested in design, product development, branding and retailing are doing very well financially?

2017 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study and Apparel Sourcing

#4 Why do you think respondents say that social compliance and sustainability issues are more important today than five years ago? Is this because of the many issues that have occurred in the recent years? What has changed?

#5 If the majority of respondents answered that they have increased their concerns and decisions on ethical sourcing and sustainability, why are there still manufacturing incidents overseas related to American-based brands?  All the respondents even audit their suppliers.  Should there be a standardized code for the process and requirements for auditors especially with overseas suppliers to ensure the ethical supply chain brands promise?

#6 According to the study some US fashion companies source from places with duty-free programs but don’t claim the benefits. They claim it is because of strict, complicated rules of origin and heavy documentation requirements by NAFTA and CAFTA-DR. How can these rules and regulations be changed? What are the obstacles?

#7 Through this article we understand that larger companies generally have a more diversified sourcing base than smaller companies. How could these extended operations correlate to our previous discussions of supply chain management and how it affects humanistic aspects of production such as workers’ rights and various labor laws?

#8 The benchmarking study finds that hiring plans of businesses within the fashion industry are beginning to shift.  Companies plan to increase their talent to include more diverse educational backgrounds such as engineering and business analytics. What are the implications for conventional fashion educational programs like FASH? How should FASH keep up with the changing nature of the apparel industry and improve the competitiveness and employability of our students?

(Please feel free to join our online discussion. In your comment, please mention the question #.)

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

28 thoughts on “Debate on Sourcing and Manufacturing in the U.S. Apparel Industry–Discussion Questions from FASH455”

  1. #1: I think the main issue with bringing manufacturing back into the U.S. is the lack of skills and lack of people to do the job. In other countries, large majority of people rely on the apparel and textile manufacturing sector to make a living and give them jobs. That is not necessarily true for Americans. Also, bringing back manufacturing is going to cost companies a lot more money to produce and to pay wages to their employees. Do you think the advancement of technology and machines helps or hurts manufacturing in the U.S?

  2. #4 In recent years, sustainability and social awareness have gained prevalence. Tragedies like the collapse of Rana Plaza and global warming have increased people’s awareness on our impact on the environment and the workplace environment. People have seen the impact they can make on the world around them and its’s important to be conscious of the effects we will be making on our future. Companies have made an effort to give back to the their communities or partner with a philanthropy important to them. Brands have also worked on being more vigilant in regards to how their manufacturing is done. Safety and fair compensation should be provided to all those who work for any given brand, regardless of whether they work within US borders. I hope that as time goes on these changes become more widespread to create a better world for the future.

  3. #1 What are the primary obstacles in bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States? Why or why not the labor cost is a detrimental factor?

    Though the United States has the technology, it lacks the labor forces needed to bring apparel manufacturing back here. Workers in the United States are not skilled in this area, nor do they show any interest of wanting to be. United States workers have the vision of the “American dream” which to them does not include working in factories to produce clothing. There is also the cost of moving labor back to the United States. It would be more expensive for companies to produce here, along with being very time consuming. Workers will need to be paid significantly more than in developing countries, and it would take time to train them, which will affect the prices of goods sold by these companies and also the time it takes to produce them.

  4. #1: I think that the primary obstacle in bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States is that we are more of a capital intensive country and apparel manufacturing is much more labor intensive. The US doesn’t have the people with the specific skill sets to work in the apparel manufacturing industry, but rather Americans have higher education and strive to maintain careers on a higher level than working in a factory. I also think that the comparative advantage theory hold the US back from taking over apparel manufacturing. The US dominates many industries, meanwhile LDC’s mainly rely on the T&A industry for the majority of the countries’ incomes. If the US took over yet another industry, the LDC’s would be left with nothing. I don’t think that it is necessary for the US to do this and take away really the only thing the LDC’s have to keep their economies above water.

    1. Great argument! BTW, do you agree that if apparel production can be automated, apparel manufacturing will come back to the US? very interested in your thought on question #2

      1. I think that if apparel production becomes automated, it is very likely for manufacturing to come back to the US because we have the capital and technology to do so. Although it would bring more money into the country, I don’t think it is necessarily as positive of a change as it may appear. Even though the manufacturing will be brought to the US, it does really create more domestic jobs since the factory floors would be empty and machines would basically replace US workers. I am very interested to see what happens in the future with this and how it impacts the US and LDCs that rely on T&A manufacturing.

  5. #1 What are the primary obstacles in bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States? Why or why not the labor cost is a detrimental factor?

    I feel that bringing apparel manufacturing back to the states would unfortunately not be the best idea. I think that a primary obstacle is money. Though the US is a very developed country, when it comes to labor costs, this country wouldn’t be able to compete with countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam. In countries like those I stated before, labor is very inexpensive and wages are very low.
    In the US, our minimum wage is $6.25 whereas in Bangladesh it is around $0.51/ hour. It costs a lot less for the US to send work there since it costs companies so much less and gives US consumers cheaper goods. If they were to produce here, the cost of goods would double, maybe even triple, in price and consumers would be upset and less people may buy as a result.

  6. Question #4 feel that respondents say that social compliance and sustainability issues are more important today than five years ago because more light has been shed on these issues in the media and in conversation, causing more people to be educated on the issues. Thus, allowing people to truly see the negative impact these issues have and take action. The many issues that have occurred in the recent years are definitely responsible for such attention being brought to the issues. They were too alarming for the world not to listen. All in all, I feel that things have changed because of these incidents. People really turned a blind eye before, but once certain events occurred, there was no way to ignore. They had to face, resulting in putting companies in the hot seat and spreading the word.

  7. #4
    I believe that social compliance and sustainability issues are no more important now than 5 years ago, rather our society is now fighting more against social injustices that have become more prevalent. I think after seeing so many tragedies occur, the current society feels they need to take a stand and speak up for these issues. For example, as fast fashion grows there is more and more textile waste which is exemplifying the need for sustainable fashion. 5 years ago, this issue may not have been as obvious because fast fashion wasn’t as popular. Now, consumers are buying larger quantities of clothes and getting rid of clothing more often that the need to do something with these discarded textiles is more clear.

  8. Posted on behalf of Catrina Carbone
    #1: Many people quickly link the primary obstacle of bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States, to the cheap labor costs from outsourcing. Major companies outsource their production to overseas countries, such as China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. Cheaper labor cost is one of the major components to the significant decrease in apparel manufacturing and an obstacle to bring back those jobs, but it is not the primary and only factor to this issue.

    The US has a lot of capital compared to the countries companies normally outsource to, creating a different job skillset and production efficiency. Why would the US bring back apparel manufacturing when it is does not seem worth it? Apparel manufacturing is labor-intensive and requires technical and hands-on set of skills. The type of work in the US is capital-intensive because it is more efficient and a greater investment. When I talked to my mom one of the things that stuck out to me during the conversation was when she was growing up, she had family members in apparel production facilities or were seamstresses. Those types of jobs are unheard of now because we do not have as many trade schools and jobs. Our skills have changed tremendously over time, especially with advancements of technology, that a primary obstacle is how to slow down our face-paced environment to bring back apparel manufacturing jobs. It that even possible? It would cost companies so much because they would now have to train people to do these kinds of jobs. If more apparel manufacturing jobs were to come back, would the US be able to compete against the already established facilities in places like China and Vietnam, that have the organization and workforce? Labor costs has a big part in apparel manufacturing, delaying the movement of jobs back into the US, but there are many other key components to consider.

  9. In regards to question one there are many people who believe that bringing back manufacturing to the US will be beneficial to our economy especially in the respect of providing jobs. This however, is not entirely true because our population has far less people interested in these types of jobs, not creating employment opportunities that Americans are looking for. Not only that, but a greater deal of US citizens are not as skilled in these tasks as those in other countries. Workers in places like China are far more willing to work long hours and produce at the cheap and quick rate that businesses like ours demand. Likewise, this type of producing on our own soil would be very pricey and almost impossible to attain and make a profit in the way textile and apparel is now. That being said, the dynamic in which we experience right now works hand in hand between countries, giving benefits to all in which could not be achieved otherwise.

  10. #1 What are the primary obstacles in bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States? Why or why not the labor cost is a detrimental factor?

    The primary obstacle of binging apparel manufacturing back to the United States it the labor needed and the lack of that in the U.S. The U.S. is a capital intensive country and not as much of a labor intensive country. Unfortunately, in the U.S. there is a lack of skills and lack of people capable of doing the job. We have do not have enough people with the skills needed to have a more labor intensive country. In contrast to other countries, they have a large majority of people that rely on the apparel and textile manufacturing sector to make a living and give them jobs. For Americans that is not the case. We rely on all different industries to make a living. Manufacturing domestically will increase production costs and will negatively affect companies with the responsibility to pay employees a higher wage. The American culture in regards to labor is very different than those in developing countries and manufacturing domestically will be a big change for the U.S. compared to what we are use to now.

  11. #1 What are the primary obstacles in bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States? Why or why not the labor cost is a detrimental factor?

    I believe that the primary obstacle to bringing apparel manufacturing back to the US is manufacturing labor. The US has a lot more capital compared to developing countries that cannot afford to have these expensive machines and instead, can pay people very low wages to work very long hours to manufacture apparel. The US could not financially lower their labor costs as low as developing countries pay their employees.

  12. #1 What are the primary obstacles in bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States? Why or why not the labor cost is a detrimental factor?

    I think the primary obstacles in bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States is definitely labor costs. In the United States their are strict regulations to be followed concerning the treatment of workers and the amount of money they should be making. While even in the U.S., these rules aren’t always followed, they are taken more seriously then in developing countries where a majority of the time, workers are mis-treated and under paid. Therefore, if the U.S. was to begin manufacturing more, the cost of products would increase significantly because the labor costs in the U.S. are so much higher than elsewhere. Then, people wouldn’t buy as much and the economy would suffer as a result of this.

    1. Good point, but personally I don’t think labor is the decisive factor. Just think about our FASH majors, how many of you are interested in finding a sewing job in the future? Plus, labor cost in some EU countries such as Italy, France, and Germany is even higher, yet apparel manufacturing remains a decent presence in these countries as we discussed in our class.

  13. #1 What are the primary obstacles in bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States? Why or why not the labor cost is a detrimental factor?

    I think one of the major obstacles with bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States its the price of the fabric and manufacturing within the U.S. Finding fabric overseas and importing the garment to the United States is much cheaper than finding the fabric here and manufacturing the garment here. Even though the quality may be better with manufacturing domestically, consumers may not want to spend their money on a “made in USA” garment. Lastly, labor costs are a big concern. The U.S has strict regulations regarding minimum wage and overtime hours unlike factories overseas and factories break these policies often which lead to problems.

  14. Question #4 :
    I do believe that the increase in issues occurring throughout the past years has played a huge impact in the respondents comments that social compliance and sustainability issues are more important today than five years ago. I additionally think that a simple increase in awareness from these incidences has caused many companies and contributors throughout the fashion industry to become more forward thinking and more proactive than reactive in situations like this. Many of the social compliance and sustainability issues could have been prevented if this awareness and ambition to avoid these types of situations had occurred more throughout the industry, but now they are becoming extremely important to pay attention to since (in a more business-minded thought process) occurrences such as these can have a remarkable impact on a company and their wellbeing in the future. If a company wants to be able to survive, especially in today’s changing and competitive retail market, it is important to many consumers (more today than ever I believe) that they are at least making an effort to avoid any social or environmental tragedies and effects the fashion world may incur.

  15. #4
    I think there are numerous reasons that social compliance and sustainability issues are said to be more important today than five years ago. Factors include the rise of social media, increasing environmental issues, and unfortunate tragedies (like Rana Plaza) forcing companies to update their social responsibility practices. I wouldn’t say its is because of “issues” alone, but they definitely have had an impact. When a factory collapses and thousands are injured/deceased, the media informs the public and as a result, companies must return with their promise to ensure something of this nature never happens again. In recent years, it has also become a trend for people to “shop smart.” This includes consumers buying from socially responsible brands, and brands who take initiate to help the environment and reduce waste from their products. Having a transparent supply chain has also become a company trend, to offer consumers and the public assurance of their responsible practices, which in-turn creates competitiveness in the industry.

  16. #3
    I don’t think the U.S. will ever fully let the apparel manufacturing industry go. This is because of the “Made in America” trend. People will never fully feel connected to clothing that is not made in the USA. For clothing that is made in other countries, consumers may wonder where exactly it came from if it was made ethically. The government still sees hope in a growth of this trend in America. Some people believe we need to bring those jobs back to the US even though our work force does not have the skills nor do they truly desire to be working in clothing factores. I do not believe much would change if US manufacturing was eliminated from the US as a whole, I just don’t see that happening. I believe no matter how small, there is a drive for US made clothing that will keep some production in the US.

  17. #3: I think this question proposes an interesting discussion.. why not just let apparel manufacturing go?? I think a lot of the reasoning behind wanting to bring back apparel manufacturing to the U.S. has to do with the desire to remain competitive in this field and not let foreign markets become too powerful. The U.S. currently has a trade deficit, indicating we import much more than we export. This is concerning to the U.S. economy, that we’re loosing manufacturing to other countries, because imports will increase and not alleviate any of the deficit the country is facing. There are also ethical concerns with outsourcing that are now being watched with a more careful eye, especially after the tragedy with the Rana Plaza factory collapse. The cost is driven so low to produce these goods overseas that fair wages, healthcare, and safety are negotiable if it means the price of production will be less. Companies are becoming more aware of their responsibility to produce ethically in order to prevent a similar tragedy- or worse- from occurring. Lead times and speed to market are longer with outsourcing to other countries which is another negative associated with letting apparel manufacturing go.

  18. #1 What are the primary obstacles in bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States? Why or why not the labor cost is a detrimental factor?

    In regards to question number 1, after class discussions, I believe the biggest obstacles in bringing manufacturing back to the United States include lack of skills, lack of people, as well as labor costs. In my opinion, labor costs are the biggest obstacle. Western apparel brands are able to source very cheaply from overseas. If manufacturing came back to the the United States, brands would not be able to get away with low working conditions and low wages. Violations are easily broken and not enforced in factories overseas which causes labor costs to be very low for western apparel brands but the U.S. has strict regulations and these policies would not be able to be broken here.

    1. I thought it could be interesting to reexamine this question after our case study 3 on VF’s sourcing strategy:

      To me, one of the biggest hurdles to bring apparel manufacturing back to the US is that fashion brands and retailers are not interested in spending money on building new factories and hiring sewing workers. Instead, their business priority is to strengthen functions like design, branding, marketing, and the distribution channel.

  19. The top primary obstacles in bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States would be the cost it takes to produce garments, the lack of American workers’ skills, and the speed of production. The U.S. must source from factories in other countries because they’re cheaper and faster. In the U.S., the labor cost is a detrimental factor because factory workers will expect higher wages than those in third-world countries. People in the U.S. can’t expect jobs in the manufacturing industry to return if they don’t have enough skilled workers or if companies want high quality products at a faster and cheaper rate.

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