Automation Comes to Fashion

Video Discussion Questions:

#1 Why do you agree or disagree with the video that automation will post a significant challenge to garment workers in developing countries such as Bangladesh? How should policymakers react to the challenges?

#2 Can automation be a permanent solution to the social responsibility problem in the garment industry?

#3 In your view, how will automation affect the big landscape of apparel sourcing and the patterns of world textile and apparel trade?

#4 Why or why not do you anticipate a sizable return of apparel manufacturing to the United States if apparel production can be largely automated?

Additional reading: The robots are coming for garment workers. (WSJ, 2018)

Please feel free to share your views and join our online discussion!

Debate on Brexit and Globalization: Questions from FASH455

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#1 Why should or should not globalization be responsible for Brexit? Does Brexit suggest that globalization is in retreat? What is your view?

#2 From the case of Brexit, how do you understand that “textile and apparel is a global sector”?

#3 Is the UK fashion industry a winner or loser of Brexit? What is your evaluation?

#4 How will Brexit shape the future of the fashion industry both in the UK and globally? What can be expected and what are the uncertainties?

#5 Seeing all of the complications that resulted from Brexit in regards to trade and the fashion industry as a whole, why or why not will similar disruptions occur if the US pulls out of its free trade agreements?

Welcome to join our online discussions. In your comment, please mention the question #.

US Continues to Lose Textile and Apparel Manufacturing Jobs in 2017

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It may disappoint those who are hoping a return of textile and apparel manufacturing jobs in the United States. But according to latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313 and 314) and apparel industry (NAICS 315) respectively lost another 4,100 and 10,100 jobs in 2017.  Between January 2005 and December 2017, 44.2% and 56.3% of jobs in the U.S. textile and apparel sectors were gone.  

From the academic perspective, a sizable return of textile and apparel manufacturing job in the United States seems to be extremely unlikely given the nature of the U.S. and the global economy in the 21st century.

Notably, the rising import is found NOT a significant factor leading to the decline in employment in the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313). As estimated by a US International Trade Commission study in 2016, imports were found only contributed 0.4 percent of the total 7.6 percent annual employment decline in the U.S. textile industry between 1998 and 2014. Instead, more job losses in the sector were caused by: 1) the improved productivity as a result of capitalization and automation (around 4.6 percent annually); and (2) the shrinkage of domestic demand for the U.S. made textiles (around 3.5 percent annually).

And consistent with the prediction of classic trade theories, as capital and technology abundant developed country, the United States, not surprisingly, continues to lose its comparative advantage in making labor-intensive apparel. Hypothetically, apparel “Made in the USA” may come back if apparel manufacturing can be substantially automated like textile manufacturing. However, net job creation in the sector as a result of automation is hard to tell. Additionally, most U.S. apparel companies heavily rely on global sourcing and non-manufacturing activities such as branding, marketing, and design today. Few companies still regard “manufacturing” a key competitive advantage or an area of strategic importance to invest in the future.

Related reading: Creating High-Quality Jobs in the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry (UD Biden Institute)

Pattern of U.S. Textile and Apparel Imports (Updated: February 2018)

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The value of U.S. textile imports reached $25,706 million in 2017, up 7.2 percent from 2016 and 77.8 percent from 2000. The value of U.S. apparel imports reached $80,287 million in 2017, slightly down 0.5 percent from a year earlier and up 40.3 percent from 2000.  It is estimated that the value of U.S. textile and apparel imports could change between -2.2% and 7.6% and between -1.2% and 5.3% respectively in 2018.

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Because the United States is no longer a major apparel manufacturer but one of the largest apparel consumption markets in the world, apparel products accounted for 75.7 percent of total U.S. textile and apparel imports in 2017, followed by made-up textiles (17.4 percent), fabrics (5.7 percent) and yarns (1.2percent). This structure has remained stable over the past decade.

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The U.S. imported apparel from as many as 150 countries in 2017. Meanwhile, the Herfindahl index declined from 0.17 in 2010 to 0.15 in 2017, suggesting that overall the U.S. apparel import market is becoming less concentrated. This result is consistent with some recent studies, which show that U.S. fashion brands and retailers continue to diversify their sourcing bases gradually. Specifically, all top apparel suppliers to the United States in 2017 (by value) were developing countries and most of them are located in Asia, including China (33.7 percent), Vietnam (14.4 percent), Bangladesh (6.3 percent), Indonesia (5.7 percent), India (4.6 percent) and Mexico (4.5 percent).

On the other hand, despite the uncertain prospect of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S. apparel imports from Mexico and Canada enjoyed a robust growth of 5.3 percent and 7.7 percent respectively in 2017 from a year earlier. The result confirms the increasing importance of “speed to market” in U.S. fashion apparel companies’ sourcing decisions and the growing popularity of “near-sourcing.”

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U.S. textile and apparel imports are also becoming even cheaper. For example, U.S. apparel imports in 2017 on average was only 81.1 percent of the price in 1990 and the price of imported fabrics cut nearly by half over the same period.

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Additionally, U.S. apparel imports overall mirror the pattern of apparel retail sales in the U.S. market. This pattern reflects the fact that the performance of the U.S. economy is the leading factor shaping the size of demand for imported apparel. Notably, between 2010 and 2017, the value of U.S. apparel imports grew relatively faster than the value of U.S. apparel retail sales (3.2 percent vs 3.1 percent annually on average). The result suggests that a growing share of apparel products consumed in the United States now come from overseas.

Data source: Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), U.S. Department of Commerce

By Sheng Lu

Additional reading: Lu, S. (2018). Four key patterns in U.S. apparel imports. Just-Style

Global Value Chain for Apparel Sold at Target

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A global view in mind means more career opportunities: except material production and cut and sew, other well-paid jobs in the apparel value chain stay in the United States.

Source: Moongate Association (2017). Analyzing the Value Chain for Apparel Designed in the United States and Manufactured Overseas